Gender diversity on boards improves organisational performance

The boys’ club

Both genders believed that the “boys’ club” explained why men and women performed their roles on the board differently. The term boys’ club refers to an informal network of men with common interests and friendships — in this case, business-related interests.

Women are often excluded from these groups, as highlighted by one of the male board members we interviewed: “With women on the board there is no friendship, no affinity with other men around the table.”

Because women were not part of the boys’ club and were unable to rely on support from the men on the board, they needed more courage to express their opinions and be more prepared for meetings.

One woman said: “Women are more direct in their expression… They are generally ready to challenge because they are a little bit outside the boys’ club, protecting each other.”

While being excluded from the boys’ club does add an additional challenge for the women, they were still capable of performing their jobs well, with the added bonus of being able to offer a new perspective.

Being excluded from the boys’ club meant that the women had an outsider perspective. They were more likely to challenge ideas and opinions in a way the men were not.

Genetics and social roles

Each gender had different explanations as to why they believed women and men performed their board role differently.

The men claimed that women were genetically and socially different than them. More precisely, they believed women had a genetic predisposition and were socialised to be more caring and more collaborative. They believed these differences followed women to the board.

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One man said: “It is much more at the level of the social skills as we quickly learn as boys and girls… Social roles are determined by the fact that we are men or women and it means that men and women will perform differently and will perceive things differently… When we are on the board of directors, we reproduce the same patterns.”

Interestingly, women did not explain their differences in behaviour with genetics or socialisation. Instead, they believed their intuition, communication style and unique perspective explained the differences.

One woman said: “Women have a different way of looking at things… an approach with more conciliation and less confrontation, which improves the quality of the debates.”

The responses of both groups of participants in our study were consistent with social role theory that explains the different types of social roles women and men are expected to perform. While women might not be genetically pre-dispositioned to be more caring, they are expected to be unselfish and nurturing while men are expected to behave more competitively.