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June 2011 Diversity & Inclusion Best Practice

Why is it important to have more women on boards and top teams?

In May I was active in contributing to a membership networking site on Yammer called ‘Connected to Knowledge’. I had posed the question why is it important to have more women on the boards and top teams of organisations? To stimulate discussion I had initially commented that the UK's Lord Davies Review had recommended that FTSE listed companies endeavour to have 25% women on their boards by 2015, i.e. twice the present number. I stated that I thought that this was excellent because it would reduce the danger of group think. Also, I pointed out that research1 shows that women tend to be more transformational in their leadership style and men more transactional. I expressed a view that the present economic climate will require many businesses to reinvent their business models. They will then need to engage their workforces in understanding their new business models and in the strategic delivery of them, i.e. they will need to lead transformationally.

I’d like to share with you a summary, slightly edited, that I ultimately posted of the ensuing dialogue. I’m sure that my summary does not do justice to what was an excellent discussion. There were lots of comments by contributors suggesting that masculine script2 behaviours aren't ideal for the success of contemporary business. Glowinkowski International's research3 on gender predisposition differences suggests that women are more conscientious and perfectionist and better at connecting and rapport. This came out in some of the comments and these characteristics were seen as important contributors to contemporary business success. My own take is that we need both the male and female characteristic behaviours for business success. Prof Lynda Gratton at LBS has demonstrated4 that a 50/50 mix of men and women is optimal for innovative problem solving. It was commented that women often adopt the masculine script behaviours to succeed and this loses the benefit of the different natural qualities that both genders bring to the board table. I was interested in a suggestion, also, of the evolution of a new female who won't buckle under the existing masculine script prevalent in most organisations.

There was some debate about the current need for transformational leadership and that research demonstrates that this is more characteristic of women than men who tend to practise a more transactional style. The question was raised as to whether women adopt the transformational style as a tactic to break through the old boys' network. My own view is that they are more likely to adopt a transactional style to fit with the prevailing masculine script.

The question was posed as to whether gender was last century and that what is important is embracing different ideas and approaches. This is a key point as many organisations focus on demographic diversity, i.e. mirroring the demographics of the diversity of the communities in which they operate in their organisations. There is considerable evidence that the big bottom line benefits come from fostering an inclusive culture which embraces different ways of thinking and solving problems and different beliefs, etc, to enhance business problem solving, i.e. cognitive diversity. In this connection the notion of 2-seater boards was proposed.

Unconscious bias was raised as a key barrier to women progressing and it was noted that senior women who have taken on the masculine script behaviours of their organisation even practise invisible bias. Another suggestion was that Gen Y men are different; more in touch with their feminine side and more appreciative of female characteristic behaviours. Is this so as I am not convinced?

1Gloria Moss’s research on leadership (2010) has shown that there is no single concept of leadership and that people from different nationalities and genders conceive of leadership excellence in different ways.

2 Rosabeth Moss Kanter was an early researcher in demonstrating that because most organisations had evolved with men in power they had adopted masculine ethics and behaviours. These later became known as ‘masculine scripts’ (Men and women of the corporation. RM Kanter, New York: Basic Books, 1977)

3 The Impact of Gender on Leadership, Glowinkowski International, 2010

4 The Innovative Potential of Men and Women in Teams, Gratton, 2007


Dr Ian Dodds, iandodds@iandoddsconsulting.com, 1 June 2011

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