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Women and men directors differ on board diversity

Wednesday, September 7, 2011  
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Men and women on corporate boards disagree why fewer women are represented on boards, the importance of board diversity and other key issues, according to international research conducted by Heidrick & Struggles International, WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) and Dr. Boris Groysberg of the Harvard Business School.

"Women and men have differing points of view as to the reason why there are fewer women nominated and sitting on active corporate boards today,” noted Bonnie Gwin, vice chairman and managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ North American Board of Directors Practice. "About one third of women directors globally believe closed off traditional networks are the primary reason women aren't considered for director positions, whereas men believe there are fewer women currently in executive leadership roles, creating a smaller talent pipeline for entrance into the board room.”

The study, now in its second year, includes responses from 721 male and female board members in 26 countries and provides insight into how women and men view board composition worldwide.

"Not only do women and men disagree about the reasons why fewer women serve on boards and if quotas are effective, they also hold disparate views on whether increasing the number of women in the boardroom will actually improve overall board performance,” Groysberg said.

The study found 41 percent of women, but just 13 percent of men, personally support quotas. Still, more than half of women, versus 18 percent of men, think quotas are effective for increasing board diversity.

"This is a dramatic shift from last year's survey [which included nearly 400 female and male directors mostly in the United States], where far fewer women and men supported quotas,” said Henrietta Holsman Fore, co-chair of WCD and director of Theravance Inc.

"As we're learning from Norway and France, quotas, and even the threat of quotas, can be effective in increasing board diversity; to really work, they should be accompanied by preparatory measures, smart guidelines and implementation plans, along with databases of qualified women and corporate governance training.”

Some 55 percent of the female directors surveyed, compared to 16 percent of male directors, believe three or more women on any board make it a more effective board.

The genders also differ on how they view officer and board succession. While nearly 60 percent of the women surveyed said their board has an effective CEO succession plan, 74 percent of the men thought this. Just 40 percent of the women, versus 54 percent of the men, believe their board has an effective succession plan for directors.

"This international boardroom data is critical -- the insights we see today will no doubt have an impact on how boards collaborate and approach situations in the future,” Gwin said. "The required skills for each board member are more complex in today's demanding business environment. Our findings overall reveal multiple shifts in perception and implications for future boardroom patterns globally.”

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