Women Still Largely Absent From Corporate Boards | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Women Still Largely Absent From Corporate Boards

Play associated audio

Women are still not making headway when it comes to getting on corporate boards or into senior leadership roles within big companies.

New research out Tuesday examined Fortune 500 Companies and found that women hold only about 17 percent of the seats on boards of directors, and they have an even smaller share — about 15 percent — of senior executive positions.

Despite all the talk about the value of increasing gender diversity at the top, not much has changed according to Catalyst, a group that does research and promotes business opportunities for women.

Catalyst says this is the eighth consecutive year the percentage of women on corporate boards didn't budge. Deborah Gillis, the chief operating officer of Catalyst, says the findings, based on mid-2013 data, are very disappointing.

"Frankly, it's embarrassing, because there's no excuse in 2013 for women to remain shut out of the most senior decision-making roles in these companies," Gillis says.

Beyond issues of equity or fairness, there's a strong business case for including more women. Researchers at Credit Suisse, for example, looked at the performance of more than 2,000 global companies over several years, ending in 2012. Companies with women on their boards had higher average returns on equity and higher growth.

These findings don't prove women made the difference, but Credit Suisse's CEO said that no one can say the results aren't striking.

Katherine Phillips, a professor of leadership and ethics at Columbia University's Business School, says women bring a perspective that men might not have. She says that diversity of perspective and opinion compels everyone in the room to think harder and more critically.

"You have something in your face that's telling you that your way of thinking about the world is not the only way," Phillips says. "And so when I think about this problem, or when I think about solutions to this problem, I'm actually going to be more creative and more open to multiple perspectives."

An expert in collective intelligence, Thomas Malone from MIT, suggests some slightly different explanations for why having women in the group can lead to smarter decisions.

"One possibility is that women are just more collaborative," Malone says. "Our results ... correlated with the degree to which people participated about equally, rather than having a few people trying to dominate."

Historically, many companies have maintained they hire the best person for the job. But Tom Falk, the chief executive officer of Kimberly-Clark, says if you're only choosing talent from half the population, it is hard to imagine you have the best team. To get more women, many managers will have to think differently, he says.

"We often say we want ability, but we promote experience, or we select for experience," Falk says. "We want someone who's actually done it."

And since there are so few women in those top categories, Falk says, it can be tough.

"You have to be willing to reach for that person that's got great ability, but maybe doesn't have every experience that you might want," he says.

Kimberly-Clark makes diapers and feminine products, so perhaps it's not surprising the company would want, and indeed has, a sizeable number of women in senior positions.

But many companies that sell lots of goods and services to women — like Apple, Comcast, Safeway and Toys R Us — have just a single female on their corporate boards.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Not My Job: Skier Mikaela Shiffrin Gets Quizzed On Downhill Cheese Races

If you think downhill ski racing is dangerous, then you've never seen the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Races, in which competitors hurl their bodies down a steep hill, chasing a wheel of cheese.
NPR

Spread Of Palm Oil Production Into Africa Threatens Great Apes

Palm oil growers are setting their sights on Africa as they amp up production. More than half of the land that's been set aside for plantations in Africa overlaps with ape habitats, researchers say.
WAMU 88.5

Democrats Push To Overturn Hobby Lobby Ruling

Virginia's Tim Kaine and other Democrats are trying to overturn the ruling with legislation they say will protect female workers.
NPR

Friday Feline Fun: A Ranking Of The Most Famous Internet Cats

Forget the Forbes Celebrity 100. This is the Friskies 50 — the new definitive guide of the most influential cats on the Internet. The list is based on a measure of the cats' social media reach.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.