Women in the Boardroom

The debate about getting more women on boards has often centered around the recent excellent research by Catalyst, EY and other organizations, that more women creates a better, more profitable organization. The question about WHY that is could use further reflection and more granular observations.

For example, if I were chairman of a board, my job is to ensure the best decisions emerge from board deliberations. And how do I get the best from the board of directors? It might be useful to look at some of the dynamics of the boardroom with a gendered lens (although I would quickly add, to focus on what is observed from the dominant group's members and those from the non-dominant group members).

I might suggest some of the following for the board chair to observe:

1. Who comes to the board meetings fully prepared, having read all of the board materials in advance

2. Who among my board tends to focus on the shareholder impact of the board decisions and who might put emphasis on the stakeholders including the employees, the communities, the environment, the personal impact to families of laying off employees

3. Who discusses the short-term impact of the board decisions and who might focus more on the long-term impact

4. Who will ask questions, particularly ones that are not immediately obvious (most marketers still smile when remembering the lack of a Spanish-speaking person when Ford Motor Company introduced the NOVA in Mexico -- a car in Spanish which meant NO GO)

5. Who in general gets 'heard' which means whose comments or suggestions or critiques are picked up and affirmed by others rather than ignored, dismissed, minimized or even initially ignored but then re-said by someone in the dominant group. (Harvard Business School discovered that professors were writing men's comments more frequently on the chalkboard and referring back to men's comments more often than the women students)

6. Does everyone get included in even the informal events of the board (the pre-board dinner, the night club or country club gathering) where issues may be raised and even decided

7. Do I as board chair seek closure quickly on discussion and debate on board matters because conflict feels like it creates tension and division (Katherine Phillips of Columbia University has found that homogeneous groups don't come to better solutions; they just think they did. Heterogeneous groups come to better solutions; they just don't think they did. Diversity creates conflict but if managed well leads to better decisions.)

A board chair who is truly aware and conscious about the governance processes and the board dynamics might begin to see patterns. He or she might discover that the men might have a tendency to process in one way and the women might have a tendency to process the proceedings in a slightly different way. Certainly not all men or not all women behave in distinct ways, but the cohorts will probably behave in ways that, if properly managed, can lead to better results for the organization. It might make even more evident the reason why it is important to have more women on their board of directors.