Quotas won’t even gender gap at board level, study finds

Helena MorrisseyQuotas may create more women board members, but are not enough to keep them there, research of over 1,000 companies has found.

Even in countries where greater gender equality has improved the number of women in senior management, their board tenures may not last long, a study commissioned by BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management finds.

The study shows that quotas are not enough to even the gender balance at board level and factors influencing female economic power, such as women’s expected years of education, or their participation in the labour force, are more important.

The quality and availability of not just maternity, but also paternity benefits, such as flexible hours and the right to return to work, were also identified as a significant driver for women board members.

Helena Morrissey (pictured), chief executive officer of Newton Investment Management and founder of the 30% Club, which calls for women to represent at least 30% on FTSE-100 boards by the end of 2015, welcomed the report, which also found that national culture plays a role in gender equality at board level.

The research, conducted by the University of Cambridge, finds that Australia, Norway and Denmark are the top performing countries for female economic power, while Saudi Arabia, India and United Arab Emirates are amongst the lowest.

Yet there is no clear divide between developed and developing countries. Gender equality, humane orientation and assertiveness are all highlighted as bigger influences than previously understood, while quotas might get some women into the boardroom but won’t help to keep them there.

In countries with higher gender equality for example, women were found to be more likely to gain positions on boards. However, this aspect of the local culture had little effect on their longevity as board members.

In other regions where assertive or aggressive behaviour is highly valued, the climate was found to initially hinder female board recruitment but also increase the likelihood that women who reached board positions hold on to their roles for longer.

The research looked at 1,002 companies from the Forbes Global 2000 list across 41 countries spanning six continents and 51 industries over a ten-year period. It explored the impact of economic, cultural, political and legislative factors.

The findings were revealed at Womenomics, a London conference hosted by BNY Mellon and Newton that focused on the impact of increased female participation in economies.

“I'm delighted to see confirmation that empowering women outside the boardroom is key to getting women into the boardroom and keeping them there – potentially becoming a virtuous circle,” says Morrissey.

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