Quotas won’t help women stay at the top, says report

Board room


Quotas can help to get women into the boardroom but have no significant impact on keeping them there, according to a new study which says boosting women’s economic power of all women in society through education and work is a more effective means of achieving gender parity on boards.

The global study, commissioned by BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management, found the top performing countries for female economic power are Australia, Norway and Denmark while Saudi Arabia, India and United Arab Emirates are amongst the lowest.

Other findings revealed that a country’s collective values and beliefs about gender egalitarianism, humane orientation and assertiveness are bigger influencers than were previously understood.

The research looked at 1,002 companies from the Forbes Global 2000 list across 41 countries spanning six continents and 51 industries over a ten-year period. It was headed by Professor Sucheta Nadkarni from the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

“I’m delighted to see confirmation that empowering women outside the boardroom is key to getting women into the boardroom and keeping them there – potentially becoming a virtuous circle,” said Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management.

To a lesser extent but still significant are the quality and availability of maternity and paternity benefits, flexible hours and the right to return to work which all contribute to effective maternity provision, another key driver for both getting women on board and keeping them there.

In examining the effect of national cultural dimensions in different countries, the study found some factors, such as gender egalitarianism and humane orientation, have a strong effect on female board representation, but little effect on the longevity of female board tenure. Others, such as a culture recognising and rewarding assertiveness or aggressive behaviour hinder female board recruitment but conversely increase the longevity of tenure for those who make it in the first place.

“There is a clear effect of national cultural traits on female board membership in countries around the world,” explained Professor Sucheta Nadkarni, lead author of the study and Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

“In nations with an assertive business culture such as Germany and Greece, fewer women get to the corporate boardrooms, but those who get there are able to stay longer. The issue of longevity of female board members needs to be examined further to determine whether it means success, tokenism, powerful networking or capability. This research opens a host of questions on this issue.”

While the cultural picture varies globally, it is not a straightforward split between developed and developing countries, the study found. For example, gender egalitarianism has had a significant impact on increasing female board representation in Scandinavian and other European countries including France and the Netherlands. In contrast, in countries low on gender equality such as Germany, China, South Korea or Qatar, female board numbers remain low.

Likewise, countries that culturally value nurturing and humane orientation such as Sweden and Finland see a greater number of women on boards than countries such as Germany, Greece and the UK which do not replicate these values, says the report.

The findings were unveiled at a conference on Womenomics hosted today in London and can be found here.


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