Women In The Boardroom – Why They Are Still Unwelcome & Why This Must Change


Even as Sheryl Sandburg teaches us to “Lean In,” as Beyonce (and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) reminds us that we’re “Flawless,” and as Malala continues to demonstrate the power of young girls, the global women’s movement seems to have stalled, especially in business. Though more women than ever are seeking higher education and entering the workforce in historically masculine fields, America’s boardrooms remain noticeably bereft of the female form.

Though there are currently more female CEOs at Fortune 500 than ever in history — 23 and counting — only 17 percent of the remaining boardroom seats are occupied by women. This figure plateaued years ago; since 2010, the number of female board members has only increased by a couple points, which is bad for ambitious ladies everywhere.

Boardroom appointment procedures remain as hazy and mysterious as ever, leaving us unsure exactly why women are losing out on their fair share of leadership positions. However, researchers have a few suspicions as to why progress is stagnating, and why we absolutely need to reinvigorate the fight.


The prototypical female board member generally stands contrary to society’s common depiction of her. For the most part, she is young — notably younger than her fellow male members. She is most likely employed by a private corporation in an operational capacity, meaning she focuses on today’s profits first. She is also slightly more likely than her male colleagues to be seated in a leadership role, as CEO, partner, or president of the company. Additionally, she is much more likely to relish the power and authority her position gives her.

However, some of the stereotypes regarding successful businesswomen hold true. Businesswomen demonstrate much higher levels of ambition than their male colleagues; even women serving on multiple boards wanted to add more responsibility. More than 27 percent of female directors hope to become prime leaders, compared with 19 percent of their male counterparts. Unfortunately, women in the boardroom are much more likely than male board members to be divorced and childless. Harvard Business Review suggests that this information indicates female board members are more likely to suffer greater personal costs as they aim for professional success.

While these trends have emerged in several studies, for the most part, the female board member looks strikingly similar to her male colleagues. Still, she remains remarkably scarce throughout the corporate environment. Perhaps the following benefits will convince boards to accept more women into their midst.


A handful of studies from prominent research firms and interested companies have all but confirmed that corporations with female representation on their boards financially outperform their competitors. What’s more, it seems that increased numbers of female senior directors also makes a difference: In general, the more women, the better.

Researchers can’t say for certain why women have this effect on their companies’ bottom lines, but there are a few theories that are quite convincing. Some of the most prominent arguments are as follows:

  • Women are slower to make decisions, as they weigh more options and consider all angles before committing to action.
  • Women are more flexible than men, able to juggle (and excel at) myriad responsibilities at once.
  • Women are more focused on community and teamwork than men.
  • Women are more likely to use creativity in the workplace than men, allowing them to conceive alternative solutions to difficult problems.


Adding women — and adding people of color, who are even less represented in American boardrooms — can clearly dramatically improve a company’s financial outlook. However, there are a handful of other, non-financial reasons companies should consider integrating more diversity into their boards, including:

  • More fairness. Equality is becoming a true fundamental right, and customers are seeking out companies that practice fairness in their policies.
  • Different perspectives. A company’s target customers rarely include a single demographic; diverse board members can add understanding of what different groups want.
  • Increased respect. In leadership positions, women and people of color can demonstrate their equal value more effectively to their peers and society.

The United States is notably behind other Western nations when it comes to equal opportunity in the boardroom. A handful of governments, including Germany, Italy, France, and Spain, impose mandatory gender quotas to ensure women get equal representation in board meetings. In truth, these countries boast much higher percentages of female board members than the U.S., but most researchers are unsure whether such drastic legislative measures are effective at inspiring lasting change.

Other countries have more flexible plans for integrating women into leadership roles — like the U.K.’s voluntary target-setting program — which may be more to Americans’ taste. The truth remains that more female board members is incredibly beneficial for companies and employees alike.


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