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New Study Reveals Differing Views on Governance and Gender

By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a new survey released by Heidrick and Struggles, WomensCorporateDirectors, and Dr. Boris Groysberg, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, men and women don’t exactly see eye to eye when it comes to the relationship between diversity and governance.

The study revealed that 76 percent of female directors believed that increased board diversity will be effective in rebuilding trust in boards. Only 42 percent of men felt the same way.

Additionally, men and women named different reasons behind the lack of women on boards. According to Bonnie Gwin, vice chairman and managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles North American Board of Directors Practice, “Women and men have differing points of view as to the reason why there are fewer women – both nominated and sitting on active corporate boards today.”

She continued:

“About one third of women directors globally believe that 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 results of the study show that women seem more likely than men to agree that diversity can improve governance. Additionally, men appear to be happier than women with their CEO and director succession plans.

The fact that gender apparently plays such a big difference in these perceptions is telling about the importance of diversity in fresh thinking and considered advice that boards are supposed to provide. Indeed, if diversity had nothing to do with board performance, we could expect to see little deviation between male and female board directors when it comes to their views. But, in fact, even on issues not concerning diversity, the study shows that male and female viewpoints vary widely. The results of study itself present a case for diversity as an avenue to end groupthink.

Quotas

Interestingly, support for quotas has risen since last year as well.  In 2010 only 25 percent of women supported quotas for women on boards – and in 2011, the number rose to 41 percent.

The percentage of men supporting quotas has also risen since last year, but still remains low – from one percent to 13 percent.

Henrietta Holsman Fore, co-chair of WCD and director of Theravance, Inc., explained that the disparity here may be due to the demographics of the survey, which last year polled mainly men and women in the US, while the 2011 survey had a larger global footprint. She said:

“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.”

The new global perspective is important, Gwin said. “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.”

She continued, “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.”

Risk

According to the results, there is one area that men and women can agree on – the importance of risk management. Last year only one percent of men agreed that risk management is imperative. This year, that percentage has risen to 75 percent. The percentage of women agreeing on the importance of risk management has also risen (although not nearly as dramatically) from 40 percent last year to 74 percent in 2011.

According to Susan Stautberg, president of PartnerCom and co-founder and co-chair of WCD, “Risk is an inherent part of business and both women and men board members recognize that risk management is vital to rebuilding trust.”

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