Recruiting women to corporate boards and top executive roles helps businesses find the best people and reach key consumers. There’s a risk that too much focus on doom and gloom, over the lack of such senior women in business, will veer the discussion away from what women bring to the table through greater representation.
The topic of why women are underrepresented at senior echelons of business has received plenty of attention, as have proposals on ways to crack open that durable glass ceiling that sadly keeps a lid on women’s advancement. These discussions have been spirited and useful, and I have been an enthusiastic participant in hopes of gaining and providing further insight.
There’s a risk, however, that in concentrating too much on what is preventing women from gaining equality in boardrooms and at senior executive level, the discussion veers too much into doom and gloom – rather than focussing on what women can bring to the table by greater representation on company boards, executive director positions and other key policy-making roles.
Supporting gender equality in such roles is simply the smart thing to do from a business perspective, in addition to being the right thing to do. It’s worth examining several ways in which bringing more women to top roles can make business function better, attract new customers, and improve the bottom line.
Choosing the Best People
It’s long been recognised in business literature that choosing directors and other top personnel reflects the external environment in which firms operate, so companies have a natural incentive to select among scarce resources for the best possible people.
The best possible people are often identified through networking, word of mouth and other professional contacts, so there’s a virtuous circle at play: attracting more top women to senior roles legitimises a company seeking to attract other qualified women, by demonstrating that they are sought after and welcomed at the firm. At the same time, the inclusion of women at board and other top levels improves a company’s ability to develop channels – including networking opportunities – for identifying and attracting like – qualified women.
As outlined in a working paper I have developed with two colleagues at Cambridge Judge Business School – Elaine Oon and Jenny Chu – women board members’ different perspectives, beliefs and experience sets give them the potential to link organisations to a different set of constituencies, compared to male board members. In addition, female and male directors bring different views on how board decisions should reflect stakeholder – oriented stances – so women directors can help expand channels for connecting to key stakeholders.
About the Author
Sucheta Nadkarni is Sinyi Professor, Head of the Strategy & International Business subject group at Cambridge Judge Business School and Director of the Women’s Leadership Initiative. Her key areas of research include strategic leadership and competitive dynamics between firms. She served as the associate editor of the Journal of Management from 2011-2016, and is currently the incoming associate editor of the Academy of Management Journal.