Harvard Business Class Asks: Why Aren’t More Women on Corporate Boards?

We have often discussed the challenges of getting more women on corporate boards. This semester, a Harvard Business School professor is teaching an entire course on the subject, with the intention of figuring out why this gender imbalance persists and how to achieve more diversity.

Professor Boris Groysberg says his new elective MBA course, “How Star Women Succeed: Leading Effective Careers and Organizations,” will tackle boardroom gender disparity by asking questions like “Why do we want to have a diverse board? Is it about fairness? Is it about better decision-making? Is it about access?”

Using the Harvard Business School’s traditional case method, the course will focus on a case study that Groysberg co-authored. The case study will present four different possible governmental approaches to tackling gender disparity in the boardroom: enforcing a strictly mandated quota (as in Norway and Iceland); using a policy in which companies without women on their boards would have to explain why not (as in Finland); providing governmental incentives to promote women in the workplace, (as in Sweden); or doing nothing official about the problem (as in the United States).

With another researcher, Groysberg completed last year a comprehensive study of the issue of women on corporate boards around the world, using data from 58 countries.
He found that on average, female board members had far more operational experience on their résumés than male board members – and that the majority of female board members had actively sought their board seats. The same was not true of male board members.

Groysberg said, “The fact is that if you’re a woman you really have to try to get on boards. There aren’t too many corporate board seats that open up each year. We’re not talking about millions. We’re not even talking about thousands. Please. Don’t tell me you can’t find 100 qualified women to sit on boards in the United States of America.”

We agree. Perhaps this type of research and teaching, and the support from a professor at such an established institution, will help give greater visibility to this cause.


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