Why more women need to be on company boards

With more women as board chairs, business can better serve society, writes Helen Pitcher, chair of Advanced Boardroom Excellence. Her main argument is: Companies should benefit all their stakeholders and organisations with greater gender diversity generally outperform others.

Helen Pitcher, chair of Advanced Boardroom Excellence and graduate of Insead’s International Director's Programme, is arguing why companies need to employ more women on their boards. “If we want boards to deliver benefits for a wider stakeholder group – and stop focusing on short-term profits – we need to shift the dial on women becoming chair of these boards,” she writes on Insead’s Knowledge website. “Failing that, the corporate landscape won’t change.”

In Pitcher’s opinion, too many men are “products of the old boys’ network”. Bringing in women chairs is a game-changer, she writes and cites research from McKinsey & Company which has a long history of published reports that have established the business case for diversity. 

According to this research greater gender diversity leads to positive results for companies:

  • They generally outperform others.
  • They have a healthier risk profile and make better investment decisions.
  • They generate greater client and customer satisfaction.  

Research has shown that beyond traits like integrity, personal strength, courage and intelligence, the critical skills are:

  • An ability to influence others without dominating
  • An engaged vision of the future
  • A strong emotional intelligence
  • Coaching skills

Pitcher in particular values EQ & soft skills as important in executive positions and writes that these are more often associated with women than men. “The soft skills of facilitation, collaboration, listening, synthesising, defusing conflict and ensuring consensus are the hallmarks of a successful chair,” she writes. “At the other end of the spectrum, directive, overly assertive and antagonistic are the traits of an ineffective chair.”

According to the author there is some movement towards women but not enough. “We need a strong push to free boards held hostage by reductionist thinking,” she writes and cites research by Insead Professor Stanislav Shekshnia, who found that only 20 per cent of boards in the UK will be women-led by 2027. “This is not enough. It is time to take action to accelerate the acquisition of more female chairs, right across the public and private corporate environment,” Pitcher demands.

Read more on knowledge.insead.edu​​​​​​​

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