Are we missing the point of executive women?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012  Features

Calls for more female executives at board level are gaining wider support. Many claim that addressing the gender imbalance will have a positive effect on a company's bottom line. But is it true?

"A lot of firms can benefit from having diversity but it's too simple to say that just adding a woman to your board is going to increase shareholder value," says Renée Adams, the Commonwealth Bank Chair in Finance at the Australian School of Business. "There may be value but not necessarily."

"Quite frankly, I think it does women a disservice if there's this expectation that if they get added to a board, then shareholder value is meant to immediately increase. I think it's a lot of responsibility for the poor women!"

But Professor Adams's research has identified other benefits that women bring to boardrooms, such as better corporate governance and performance accountability.

"Women appear to be tougher monitors of management," Professor Adams says. "And the likelihood that the CEO gets fired if performance goes down is actually higher when you have more women on the board."

"Women are more likely to turn up to board meetings than men. And men show up for more meetings when there are more women on the board."

And the way men and women behave in the boardroom is opposite to their counterparts in the outside population.

"Women in the boardroom are much less tradition-oriented than men," Professor Adams says.

"If they were able to implement or to have an effect on decisions so that their values were reflected in their decisions, that could lead to more innovation."

Professor Adams is sure to inspire discussion at a breakout session focusing on workplace diversity at the Australian Graduate School of Management's 35th Anniversary conference on 11 September.

She will be joined by industry representatives Elizabeth O'Leary from Macquarie Group Limited, Judith S. MacCormick from executive research firm Heidrick & Struggles, and Rhonda Brighton-Hall from Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Session facilitator will be AGSM executive director and conjunct professor of executive education Rosemary Howard.

When: 3pm, Tuesday 11 September, 2012

Where: Australian Graduate School of Management Building, UNSW

Contact: Marie Kelly 0408256381