Women and men on corporate boards disagree about the most effective way to build board diversity, according to a recent study by WomenCorporateDirectors, Heidrick & Struggles, Harvard Business School Professor Boris Groysberg, and Researcher Deborah Bell. Women directors cited “board leadership serving as champions of board diversity” as the best method of achieve board diversity. Their male counterparts ranked the role of board leadership equally with “developing a pipeline through director advocacy, mentorship, and training.”
“Women tend to put the responsibility squarely on board leadership,” said Henrietta Holsman Fore, co-chair of WomenCorporateDirectors, “while men see it as both a pipeline and a leadership issue. Women view the board chairs, lead directors, and nominating committee chairs as the real change agents in building a diverse boardroom.”
The 2012 Board of Directors Survey examined the governance practices, strategic priorities, and perceived strengths and weaknesses of the boards of more than 1,000 directors around the world. While women and men were aligned on economic outlook, political and regulatory concerns, and business challenges, they held divergent views on the issue of boardroom diversity.
The study results showed that men and women disagreed about the reason women are underrepresented on boards. Forty-five percent of men cited the “lack of women in executive ranks” as the main reason for the corporate board gender gap. Just 18 percent of women agreed. Women cited traditional networks that tend to be male-oriented as the primary reason.
Respondents were also split along genders lines when it comes to their opinion about the effectiveness of quotas in increasing board diversity. More than half of women surveyed (51 percent) believe quotas are effective for boosting board diversity. Just 25 percent of men agreed.
Overall, corporate boards continue to struggle with making board diversity a priority. In 2012, 47 percent of U.S. directors and 57 percent of directors outside of the U.S. were unable to say that developing a diverse corporate board was a priority. Less than half of the survey respondents—47 percent of U.S. and 35 percent of non-U.S.—were able to say their boards have adopted measures that successfully advance the diversity of their board. These percentages represent little change from 2011.