Initiatives to Place Women on Corporate Boards of Directors-A Global Snapshot

By Branson, Douglas M. | Journal of Corporation Law, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Initiatives to Place Women on Corporate Boards of Directors-A Global Snapshot


Branson, Douglas M., Journal of Corporation Law


I. INTRODUCTION

I am part of a study group, which includes governance scholars from Norway, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. We interview female company directors, along with company chairpersons and representatives of adjective organizations interested in the subject of diversity on corporate boards of directors. Examples of adjective organizations in the United States are Catalyst, Inc. and WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD), and an Australian adjective organization is the Institute of Company Directors (AICD). The expected outcome of this study group is a more empirical description of how various women actually have attained elevation to corporate boards and senior management positions, as opposed to the anecdotal and other non-empirical accounts which have dominated the literature to date.1

In 2010, at the New South Wales State Library in Sydney, Australia, the group interviewed 16 women who serve as directors of publicly held companies, five company chairmen, and four representatives from adjective organizations. A subsidiary goal is to repeat the process in several countries, developing a comparative as well as empirical model of pathways for women to corporate board membership.

In this process, each of the group members reported on the progress that is occurring in her part of the world. For example, two leading experts, Dr. Susan Vinnicombe2 and Dr. Ruth Sealy,3 both from the School of Management at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, described that women on corporate boards has become a headline issue throughout much of the European Union.4 Agnes Bolso,5 Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Trondheim, augmented the group's knowledge of what had occurred in Norway (the 2003 enactment of a quota law).

The study group session revealed that, while over the last six years promotion of women to board and senior management positions has become a dormant issue in the United States, the issue has received renewed emphasis in Europe and around the Pacific Rim, especially in recent years. The European Union's Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, has strongly urged a quota measure applicable to all 27 member states.6 Several European Union (EU) member nations (Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain) have followed Norway, a non-EU member, in adopting quota laws, as have Iceland, Israel, Switzerland, and Malaysia, among non-member states.7 Impatience with the continued male dominance of seats on corporate boards is growing.8 The purpose of this Article is to detail the added impatience and emphasis, which seems to gather momentum almost daily, as well as to document responses to the glass ceiling, work and life, and other issues that have impeded women's progress toward board and management positions.

II. WHY WOMEN?9

Arguments abound for an increase of diversity in every profession or calling-law practice, medicine, academe, law enforcement, firefighting, and more. One drumbeat, persistent since the 1990s, has been for an increase in diversity candidates for publicly held corporations' boards of directors-most particularly, women on boards. "[I]f Lehman Brothers were actually Lehman Sisters, the company never would have gone under," is a statement that captures the sentiment.10 Women are thought to be more sensitive and adverse to the sorts of risk that led to the global financial meltdown of 2008.11 A greater presence of women on boards of directors may have helped avert many of the debacles which occurred.12There are several benefits to corporations from an increase in women directors. First, this increase would provide a positive role model for other women in the middle and lower ranks of corporate organizations. In mi-2011, over 50% of the middle managers in corporate America were women13 while only 2.6% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies were female.14

Second, boardroom diversity aids in avoidance of "groupthink," the complacency that led to monumental governance failures at Enron and other corporations. …

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