Friday, September 27, 2013

Breaking Through the Corporate Glass Ceiling

Over the last generation, women have made huge strides in the professional world. By many accounts, they account for over 60% of US college graduates. And while the economic recession harmed everyone, women have had a lower rate of unemployment than men, particularly in white collar industries, where their presence has been increasing.

But somehow, there seems to be a limit to how far they can rise---that proverbial “Glass Ceiling”. Though women are a majority in professional occupations, they’re just 4.2% of CEOs in America! Corporate boards are a whole other story.

"Progress on Gender Diversity for Corporate Boards: Are We Running in Place?"

Today’s WAPPP Seminar featured Cathy Tinsley of Georgetown University, presenting some preliminary findings from her research on Progress on Gender Diversity for Corporate Boards: Are We Running in Place?

Using a number of different laboratory experiments and statistical analyses, she and her colleagues explore the conditions under which more women might be added to corporate boards. While the research is still ongoing, some early results suggest a tendency to maintain the board's existing gender composition when members need to be replaced. Interestingly, she also saw an increase in selecting a woman for an open board seat when there were predominantly women in the candidate pool.

Of course, some of the reasons for women's representation on boards are important to note too. A Credit Suisse report issued last year found that companies with women on their board performed better than comparable companies that did not. In another report, Catalyst found that Fortune 500 companies with more women on their boards outperformed their peers on average across a series of financial indicators.

Women may be more represented on the boards of social organizations and non-profits than on of financial firms, for example. But should this be the case? Should women be represented equally simply because it’s fair and they are capable of providing the (exact) same service as men? Or because they bring something special and complementary---but essentially different---than men do?

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