More than 1,000 corporate board directors have been surveyed by WomenCorporateDirectors and Heidrick & Struggles this year, and the results show marked alignment between men and women on corporate challenges but very divergent opinions on gender diversity.
When asked by surveyors to cite the political issues more relevant to their role as corporate board director, both men and women said “unemployment/the economy” and “the federal budget deficit” as their top two concerns. For No. 3, men said energy costs and women said health care costs.
“Gender differences practically disappeared when we looked at how men and women directors think about issues like the economy,” says Bonnie Gwin, vice chairwoman at Heidrick & Struggles’ North American board and CEO practice. “These bottom-line business issues tend to allow for the greatest consensus in the boardroom.”
Similar agreement was seen on obstacles to corporate strategy. In America, both men and women cited the “regulatory environment” as the top challenge to their companies, followed by the need to “attract and retain top talent.” Outside the U.S., board directors rated those concerns equally.
But there was great dissonance between the genders on why so few women serve on corporate boards. Forty-five percent of men vs. 18% of women responded that the “lack of women in executive ranks” is the main reason the ratio of women on boards is not increasing. For women, the most-cited reason was that “traditional networks tend to be male-oriented.”
When asked to rank the most effective ways of increasing diversity, women directors put “board leadership serving as champions of board diversity” as No. 1. For men, that tied with “developing a pipeline through director advocacy, mentorship and training.”
Bell says whatever methods the boards are using, they aren’t working too well.
“Boards continue to struggle with diversity and our year-to-year findings have, unfortunately, not shown boards making progress in this area,” researcher Deborah Bell says. “In 2012, we found that 46% of U.S. directors and 57% of directors outside the U.S. could not say that seating a diverse representation on the board was a priority for their boards, and less than half (47% of U.S. and 35% of non-U.S.) could say their boards had adopted measures that successfully advanced diversity on the board,” adding that the 2011 statistics in this area were nearly identical.
One area where researchers say they would have been pleased to find diverging numbers is CEO succession planning. Men and women board directors both rate their strength here low to say the least.
“Astonishingly, only 1% of women and 0% of men rated succession planning as their strongest area of board expertise,” Gwin says. “Additionally, although finding the next generation of leadership is critical to the health and prosperity of an organization, only 40% of respondents globally said that their boards had an effective succession planning process for directors.”
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