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Women and men directors agree on economy, but not diversity

Friday, October 12, 2012  
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Women and men directors are in striking alignment on political concerns and economic outlook – but differ sharply when it comes to board diversity, according to a global survey of corporate board directors.

Both men and women cited the state of the "economy/unemployment” and "the federal budget deficit” as their top two political concerns, according to the 2012 Board of Directors Survey by WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD), Heidrick & Struggles, Boris Groysberg of the Harvard Business School and researcher Deborah Bell.  Below these top two, men and women differed slightly, with "healthcare costs” coming in as the number three political issue for women and "energy costs” as number three for men, according to the study, which details the view of more than 1,000 directors worldwide.

Men and women were in far less agreement, however, in the area of board diversity. Women believe board leaders must actively work to bring more women onto boards, while men see the lack of board diversity equally as a pipeline issue, the study concluded. When asked to rank the most effective ways to build diverse corporate boards, women directors cited "board leadership serving as champions of board diversity” as the number one factor. Men in the survey ranked this equally with "developing a pipeline through director advocacy, mentorship and training.”

"Women tend to put the responsibility squarely on board leadership, while men see it as both a pipeline and a leadership issue,” said Henrietta Holsman Fore, co-chair of WCD. "Women view the board chairs, lead directors and nominating committee chairs as the real change agents in building a diverse boardroom.”

Boards continue to struggle with diversity, the study showed. Forty-six percent of U.S. directors and 57 percent of directors outside the United States could not say that seating a diverse representation on the board was a priority for their boards. Less than half (47 percent of U.S. and 35 percent of non-U.S. directors) could say their boards had adopted measures that successfully advanced diversity on the board. The percentages for 2011 were almost identical.

As to why women remain underrepresented on boards, nearly half of men said "lack of women in executive ranks” was the primary reason. Only 18 percent of women agreed. As a group, women cited "traditional networks tend to be male-oriented” as the reason more women were not on boards.

"On many boards, creating an inclusive culture for the organization has not been a point of focus,” Groysberg said. "The increased importance of diversity to organizational success, however, is compelling boards to make it part of their strategic focus. Unfortunately, many boards lack awareness of best practices in this area and are uncertain about how to integrate diversity and inclusiveness initiatives into their organization's long-term strategy.”

The genders agreed, however, when rating their personal strength – or lack thereof – in CEO succession planning. "Astonishingly, only 1 percent of women and zero percent of men rated succession planning as their strongest area of board expertise,” Gwin said. "Additionally, although finding the next generation of leadership is critical to the health and prosperity of an organization, only 40 percent of respondents globally said that their boards had an effective succession planning process for directors.”

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