Adding more women to your board affects how it runs

Just 16% of US board members are women

Having women widely represented on a board of directors has been found to enhance collective intelligence and boost performance, but the U.S. continually reports low levels of female board members, around just 16%. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Laura Liswood—secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders—examines how Norway's board quota system, which requires that 40% of board members be women, has impacted the country's boardroom culture.

Aaron Dihr, an associate professor a York University's Osgoode Hall Law School, conducted a qualitative, interview-based study of 23 male and female Norwegian corporate directors who were appointed to boards both before and after the quota was implemented. Dihr says he wanted to determine how the 40% quota would affect how the board made decisions, as well as the overarching cultural dynamic.

According to Dihr's findings, introducing at least three women to organizations' boards allowed for a variety of perspectives, experiences, and angles that were different than those of their male counterparts. Further, the study also found that female leaders were more likely than male leaders "to probe deeply into the issues at hand" by asking more questions, which enhanced decision-making.

In addition, women were more likely to ask others for their opinions, ensure everyone at the table had his or her voice heard, and move the group away from expressing favoritism. Many women appeared to be uncomfortable making decisions without fully understanding the implications.

Altogether, Dihr found seven advantages to having women sit on boards with men:

  1. Improved communication;
  2. Enhanced decision making and recognition of the value of dissent;
  3. Improved crisis management and risk mitigation;
  4. Made positive changes to boardroom culture;
  5. Made positive changes to men on the board's behavior;
  6. Created a more ordered work environment; and
  7. More tightly monitored management.

However, the study did find some difficulties to heterogeneous boards. For instance, some boards that included women took longer to make decisions and experienced more conflict because more perspectives were heard.  In addition, boards that were improperly managed tended to foster a culture of distrust and dissatisfaction (Liswood, Harvard Business Review, 2/17).

The takeaway: Adding more women to your board can lead to better communication and decision-making, writes Laura Liswood, secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders, for the Harvard Business Review.

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