Washington’s state legislature has approved legislation similar to California’s which will require public company boards to have gender diverse directors. Washington’s bill, which still needs the governor’s signature to become law, would require that women hold no less than 25% of the total board seats in any company. Boards that fail to meet that minimum will be required to explain why they haven’t and what they are doing to fix it.
Those who oppose the legislation are trotting out the usual arguments: it will lead to unqualified women serving on these boards, it will reduce women to quota hires who are by definition, apparently, unqualified. Do you detect a theme? (I’m amazed “unqualified” isn’t a synonym for “woman” or “female” in the dictionary/thesaurus.)
Here’s what I want to know: why aren’t these same people equally concerned about all the unqualified men already serving on these boards?
Since the dawn of time, It’s been a much lower bar for men who are asked to join corporate boards - their basic qualification has been who they know - period. Given that as the single criteria for selecting board candidates, who do you think we have currently serving on boards? They aren’t all rocket scientists - or captains of industry.
The reality is that male board members are typically less qualified than their female counterparts. Harvard Business Review reported in 2013 that male board members were less likely to serve in the lead role in their organization (CEO, president, partner) and less likely to be in an operating position (I know - you thought those were absolute minimum - they are when we talk about female candidates). Other researchers found that male directors have a smaller set of unique skills when compared to the women and fewer academic credentials. The average age of male directors is lower than the women, and men are typically serving on more boards at the same time as the women.
What else do we know? Male board members haven’t kept investors safe from fraud and corruption (ex: Enron, Lehman Brothers). They haven’t protected our communities and families from pollution and poisoning (Dow), or our lands and seas from environmental genocide (BP). Left to themselves, all-male board members have been responsible for the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, sweeping predatory patterns of sexual harassment and assault under the carpet with mandatory arbitration and non-disclosure agreements. All-male boards haven’t kept dangerous products out of our hands (Samsung Galaxy) and off our roads (Takata).
I don’t want to hear another person say that efforts to require or promote the addition of women to boards will lead to unqualified women serving. We have a long way to go before there are as many unqualified women serving on boards as there are unqualified men. I’m not buying it and neither should you.
- Dysfunction in the Boardroom, Groysberg & Bell (2013)
- Gender Diversity on Corporate Boards: Do Women Contribute Unique Skills?, Kim & Star (2016)
- Racial and Gender Inequality in the Boardroom, Souther & Yore (2016)
Photo: Samuel Zeller, Unsplash