Thursday, December 20, 2018

Boards of Directors: What Happens to Female Dissenters?

Source: Blue Diamond Gallery
Juan Ma and Ithai Stern of INSEAD have published a paper titled, "Gender's Impact on Directors' Career Trajectories."  They examined the disparate impact on men and women of an expression of dissenting views during board of director meetings.  They explain their results:

We find that directors, male and female, are significantly less likely to continue serving on the focal board after issuing a dissenting opinion.  All else equal, dissenters are more than twice as likely to be dismissed from the focal board compared to those who did not dissent.  We also find that female dissenters will be more likely than male dissenters to be knocked off the board due to the in-group/out-group bias: a female dissenter was almost four times more likely to be dismissed compared to her female colleague who did not dissent, while a male dissenter was only (less than) twice as likely to leave the board following a dissenting opinion.

They also found that female dissenters are more likely to be dismissed if there are other female directors on the board.  The scholars explain that result by arguing that the boards may feel that they can "afford losing the female dissenter, as they are no longer subject to the societal pressure to have (at least) one woman on the board."  

Source: Harvard Business Review
The findings are troubling, if not surprising, to many scholars who have examined corporate governance practices.  Many boards do not have constructive debates.   Dissenters are marginalized easily, and they are viewed as disruptive or unhelpful.  Female board members often bring an important, different perspective to board meetings, but it's hard for them to contribute if they are penalized so strongly for expressing dissent.  

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