Are women different?

In Monday’s FT, Lucy Kellaway writes about the impact that she, specifically as a female non-executive director (of Admiral, the FTSE 100 car insurance group), has on her board.

How much does gender deliver diversity? Will a woman inevitably bring a different perspective to the board table than a man, or do we exaggerate the importance of gender in our drive for more heterogeneous management teams? Kellaway goes on to take a tilt at another mantra for increasing female participation at board level: positive role modelling. She writes:

“I don’t kid myself that my own inanely grinning face in the annual report is a good example to bright, ambitious women working in the company on whose board I serve.”

In an article published last year in European Management Review, an international journal, Sabina Nielsen and Morten Huse discussed their research into the contributions made by women directors to board decision-making and strategic involvement at 120 Norwegian companies.

Because Norway has the highest level of participation of women in the boardroom globally, having introduced a 40 per cent quota in 2008, it makes for a useful gender lab.

Broadly, the researchers found it was not gender as such that underpinned women’s different perspectives, but rather the varied professional experience and value systems they tended to bring to the boardroom. More women than men in the research sample had higher degrees and non-business backgrounds. They were less likely than men to tolerate ethical lapses such as insider trading.

Most of them held, like Kellaway, non-executive roles, and those who were executive directors tended to be in “soft” areas such as human resources, marketing and corporate and social responsibility. This difference led to a commonly held notion, among both male and female directors, that female board members were less central to driving their boards’ decisions than their male counterparts. There was a difference in those cases where the chief executive was a woman: then all the women in the boardroom were deeply engaged in both setting strategy and contributing to board decisions.

One of the difficulties in research into gender difference in leadership is simply that it is hard to quantify. Also, it often corresponds to perceptions of gender stereotypes. We need more examples of gender-balanced boards – and especially of boards with three or more women executive directors – to be able to analyse how much gender itself makes a difference.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.
 

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit www.ft.com/womenatthetop

VIDEOS

About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.