Study Gives New Twist on Importance of Women on Corporate Boards

By Pamela J. Bethel

We have written before about the importance of increasing the number of women on the boards of major corporations from the 15 percent level that seems to have stubbornly remained with us. We and others have said on many occasions that placing more women on boards isn’t just the right thing to do but is also good business.

The other day, a columnist at Forbes provided an interesting perspective on the issue. Bryce Covert, who writes frequently for the business magazine on women’s business issues, says it may well be a myth that it’s desirable to have women on boards because they tend to embrace a more conciliatory approach to issues.

In fact, Covert writes, a new academic study tends to show just the opposite – that it’s good to have women on boards because they make the boards more aggressive in fulfilling their legal responsibilities, not more conciliatory.

The author of the study, Miriam Schwartz-Ziv, wrote that boards that were gender-diverse were more likely to call an underperforming CEO to task, and that companies with gender diversity on their board had higher returns on investment, on average.

Covert wrote that it’s not a good idea to resort to “tired cliches of feminine nature” to explain why more women should be appointed to corporate boards. Instead, she notes sensibly that the broader the pool becomes of people who are considered eligible to join corporate boards, the more likely it is that top people will be appointed. Thus diversity of all sorts, including corporate diversity, is good business.

As we have said before, the problem isn’t women’s family responsibilities and it isn’t out-and-out sexism. It’s simply that corporate America needs to change its image of what a board member looks like.

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