Male, female corporate directors at odds on diversity: Survey

One-half of women directors support quotas, compared to one-quarter of men
||Last Updated: 09/28/2012

Men and women corporate directors are in alignment on economic outlook, political and regulatory concerns, and the business challenges facing their companies — but differ sharply when it comes to board diversity, found a report released by WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD) in the United States.

"We see a remarkable consensus among men and women directors globally regarding the top 2012 political issues and the threat of increased regulation in this turbulent economy," said Susan Stautberg, co-founder and co-chair of WCD. "But there is far less agreement from men and women in the area of board diversity. Women believe that board leaders must actively work to bring more women onto boards, while men see the lack of board diversity equally as a pipeline issue.”

In 2012, 57 per cent of global board directors did not see diversity as a top priority for their board, found the survey. One-third (35 per cent) of the respondents said their boards had adopted measures that successfully advanced diversity on the board, found the 2012 Board of Directors Survey, which polled 1,067 directors in 58 countries, including Canada.

Forty-five per cent of men versus 18 per cent of women surveyed said the "lack of women in executive ranks" is the primary reason that the percentage of women on boards isn't increasing. Female respondents said the fact that traditional networks tend to be male-oriented was also of concern.

"There is a clear perception gap when it comes to evaluating how the still predominantly male business networks impact the number of women on boards," said Stautberg. "Women see a real need to develop the kinds of networks that have historically been the path to directorships. These more diverse networks will create greater success for the company."

Just over one- half (51 per cent) of the women directors surveyed believe that quotas are an effective tool for increasing diversity in the boardroom, but only 25 per cent of men agreed.

"Board quotas remain an evergreen topic, as some countries seek to legislate diversity," said Bonnie Gwin, vice chairman and co-managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles' North American Board and CEO Practice, which was also a partner in the survey. "However, we see from these numbers that quotas don't garner an overwhelming support even from women directors."

One area of agreement is in how men and women rate their personal strength — or lack thereof — in CEO succession planning. Only one per cent of women and zero per cent of men rated succession planning as their strongest area of board expertise.

Although finding the next generation of leadership is critical to the health and prosperity of an organization, only 40 per cent of respondents globally said that their boards had an effective succession planning process for directors, found the survey.

Survey highlights:

Top 2012 political issues: State of the unemployment/the economy and federal budget deficit.

"Gender differences practically disappeared when we looked at how men and women directors think about issues like the economy," said Gwin.

"These bottom-line business issues tend to allow for the greatest consensus in the boardroom."

Top challenges to corporate strategy: Regulatory pressures and talent issues.

"Given that for many companies human assets are a major source of competitive advantage and given the very large differences in performance between the top people and everybody else, it is becoming increasingly critical for boards to be involved in talent management to assure that their companies' most important assets and competitive advantage are not being mismanaged,” said Boris Groysberg, a professor at the Harvard Business School, who also participated in the study.

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