Huffpost Business
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Keven Bellows Headshot

Voluntary Action Is Not Working!

Posted: Updated:

The evidence keeps piling up. Public company boards with women directors perform better than all male boards -- a fact that the male-dominated board of directors club continues to ignore. Forbes recently reported data from the latest study by the University of British Columbia that "each woman added to a board reduces the price of a successful acquisition by 15.4 percent. In addition, each female director reduces the number of a company's attempted takeover bids by 7.6 percent."

Companies with gender-balanced boards had a "53 percent higher return on equity, 66 percent higher return on invested capital and 42 percent higher return on sales," according to the Forbes article -- numbers which have been repeatedly reported in other studies.

Since women tend to be more risk averse than their male counterparts, other surveys have shown that companies with gender-diverse boards came through the recession faster and better than companies with all-male boards. The British Columbia study refined these findings further. "Since women tend to be slightly more risk averse than their male counterparts, (their influence) limits the company's pursuit of risky transactions, and their prudence in negotiating mergers and acquisitions maintains the company's value and seeks high returns of investment."

The 58 women interviewed for a recent book, The Board Game: How Smart Women Become Corporate Directors concur. Many shared again and again with author Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire their sense of responsibility to protect shareholder value. The latest research also speaks to the beneficial effects of women's more cooperative approach, "including additional lines of inquiry concerning multiple stakeholders in their deliberations," resulting in a more thorough analysis.

These facts are not news. The significant value women bring to corporate boards and the bottom line has been established by a number of reputable surveys and long-term research. Yet the percentage of women on public company boards in the U.S. remains an anemic 16-17 percent compared to much higher percentages in other developed countries. Western European democracies seem to have gotten the message and are acting on it, catching the attention recently of the Wall Street Journal.

Forbes reports that an additional significant factor of the presence of women on corporate boards is their advocacy for women in those companies. A recent survey by Catalyst, the oldest and best organization studying women's career advancement, found: "Over time, a 10 percent rise in female board membership correlates to a 21 percent increase in female executives," unleashing their leadership skills and strengthening the company.

"In turn these executives advocate for the women below them, creating a virtual cycle and a robust talent pipeline," notes Catalyst.

The Forbes article clearly stated, "Voluntary efforts to increase women's participation at top levels of business leadership aren't working." Amen!

But the quotas established in Western Europe are very controversial in the U.S. It smacks of "big brother" and American companies bristle at that type of government interference. Many of the directors interviewed in The Board Game are ambivalent about quotas, as well. They don't want to think they were asked to join a board to fill a quota, rather than for the specific value they bring to the company.

The California legislature, recognizing the state's interest in corporate performance, became the first in the nation to pass a resolution last fall urging public companies to add women to their boards within the next three years, citing all the research that makes this a value proposition. Approximately 200 companies in California have no women on their boards!

Many other highly visible companies in the state have three, four and five women on the board and their great success supports the research findings and reflects the intrinsic value of gender diversity in the board room.