Corporate Board Makeup Critical for Women Executives: Kellogg

Boards with more women correspond to greater female executive presence

Women who are still fighting the glass ceiling for corporate advancement may find that the way up lies through the corporation’s board, according to data released Sunday by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

The data are from the study titled "Chipping Away at the Glass Ceiling: Gender Spillovers in Corporate Leadership," which will be published in the May 2011 issue of The American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings.

An analysis of data spanning the years from 1997 to 2009 revealed that as the number of women sitting on corporate boards increased, so did the number of women executives at those companies. The phenomenon did not work in reverse; in other words, if a company gained more women in top executive positions, female representation on its board did not increase.

David Matsa, assistant professor of finance at the Kellogg School, said in a statement, "Unfortunately, there are still institutional gender barriers in today's workplace that prevent women from holding high-level executive positions. Our research uncovers the impact of 'women helping women' at the highest level of company leadership. Women who hold board positions have a unique opportunity to propel their female colleagues into executive roles, so in effect when women's share of board seats increases, their share of top level positions also increases."

Matsa and co-author Amalia Miller of the University of Virginia and the RAND Corp. found that, while the effect of a higher percentage of women on the board resulted in a higher percentage of women in executive positions, it could take "multiple years," Matsa added. "Our research shows that while the female share of board seats may increase the desire to hire other female executives, there is a lag time for women to achieve these roles probably because the positions are currently occupied by qualified candidates."

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