Despite considerable press interest and the sympathetic attention of policy
makers, academics and practitioners, female representation on company boards
remains proportionately low worldwide.
There have been several reasons suggested for this, such as women's family
responsibilities and inherited tendencies to display fewer of the necessary
traits to pursue high-level positions. There is a perception that men tend to
value and engage in more assertive and competitive behaviours. Women
traditionally occupy more caretaking roles, and value more communal behaviour.
Yet there is disparity in the achievement of better female representation among
societies across the globe. While some countries have failed to see even one
female director appointed, others enjoy a high proportion of female directors
on their corporate boards.
This research looks at several key social institutions and tests how their
influence can sway attitudes towards female appointment to board level in both
positive and negative ways.
Examining data from across 45 countries, this study tested 3 hypotheses
1) The level of women's representation in politics will positively
impact on the prevalence of women on boards of corporate
The study finds that strong representation of women in parliament has a
positive impact on the prevalence of women on boards. The presence of female
directors in key societal institutions, such as government, helps reduce
traditional gender stereotypes. This leads to a wider acceptance of women in
high profile positions outside of politics. Visible female politicians,
inhabiting positions of power and influence, may also motivate women to pursue
such roles, in both politics and business.
2) The institutional development of a country's economic environment
positively impacts on the prevalence of women on boards of corporate
The research found that this hypothesis was not strongly supported. Some
highly developed economies do indeed have high representation of women at board
level but others, Japan being a prime example, do not.
3) The degree of religiosity in a society relates negatively to the
prevalence of women on boards of corporate directors
The research backed this hypothesis. Strict, ingrained attitudes that
emanate from religion tend to favour clearly defined and traditional gender
roles, such as that men achieve and govern, and women produce and care for
children. Religious views tend not to evolve, so countries where religion has
great influence on society and culture tend to see poor levels of female
representation at board level. Such is the influence of some religions that
they could conceivably have a positive effect on the numbers of women on
corporate boards but significant change within them would be required for this
This paper looks at the current state of board gender diversity across a
significant array of countries, and offers an insight into the gender role
attitudes that help shape it. It provides enhanced understanding of the
particular institutional forces that may impede or facilitate women's
involvement in corporate leadership, in both Western and Non-Western societies.
The analysis could assist policy makers in addressing gender inequality at
corporate board level. Moreover, it could help companies understand local
dynamics and customs relating to equality in specific countries they may
operate in. It could inform decisions whether to operate in certain countries
where equality is a norm and there is greater chance of utilising both female
and male talent, or choose to enter a country where there are institutional
barriers to equality and then utilise female talent as a competitive
This research has been published in The Leadership Quarterly. A draft version of the
research paper is available for download below.