The Corporate Board Glass Ceiling: The Role of Empowerment and Culture in Shaping Board Gender Diversity

  • Krista B. LewellynEmail author
  • Maureen I. Muller-Kahle
Original Paper


In this study, we use a mixed methods research design to investigate how national cultural forces may impede or enhance the positive impact of females’ economic and political empowerment on increasing gender diversity of corporate boards. Using both a longitudinal correlation-based methodology and a configurational approach with fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis, we integrate theoretical mechanisms from gender schema and institutional theories to develop a mid-range theory about how female empowerment and national culture shape gender diversity on corporate boards around the world. With our configurational approach, we conceptually and empirically model the complexity that is associated with the simultaneous interdependencies, both complementary and substitutive ones, between female empowerment processes and various cultural dimensions. Our findings contribute unique insights to research focused on board gender diversity as well as provide information for firm decision makers and policymakers about possible solutions for addressing the continuing issue of the underrepresentation of women on corporate boards.


Board gender diversity Female empowerment Power distance Masculinity Fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) 



The authors acknowledge helpful comments from participants at the 2017 International Corporate Governance Society Conference, where an earlier version of this paper was presented.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Krista B. Lewellyn and Maureen I. Muller-Kahle declare that they have no conflict of interest with respect to the conduct of this research.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


  1. Abdullah, S. N., Ismail, K. N. I. K., & Nachum, L. (2016). Does having women on boards create value? The impact of societal perceptions and corporate governance in emerging markets. Strategic Management Journal, 37(3), 466–476.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, R. B., & Funk, P. (2012). Beyond the glass ceiling: Does gender matter? Management Science, 58(2), 219–235.Google Scholar
  3. Aguilera, R. V., Filatotchev, I., Gospel, H., & Jackson, G. (2008). An organizational approach to comparative corporate governance: Costs, contingencies, and complementarities. Organization Science, 19(3), 475–492.Google Scholar
  4. Al-Yahyaee, K. H., Al-Hadi, A. K., & Hussain, S. M. (2017). Market risk disclosures and board gender diversity in gulf cooperation council (GCC) firms. International Review of Finance, 17(4), 645–658.Google Scholar
  5. Bachelet, M. (2010). Women’s rights as human rights. In Achieving gender equality, women’s empowerment and strengthening development cooperation (pp. 16–20). United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.Google Scholar
  6. Bae, S. C., Chang, K., & Kang, E. (2012). Culture, corporate governance, and dividend policy: International evidence. Journal of Financial Research, 35(2), 289–316.Google Scholar
  7. Bell, R. G., Filatotchev, I., & Aguilera, R. V. (2014). Corporate governance and investors’ perceptions of foreign IPO value: An institutional perspective. Academy of Management Journal, 57(1), 301–320.Google Scholar
  8. Bem, S. L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 4, 354–364.Google Scholar
  9. Bigelow, L., & Parks, J. M. (2006). Gender stereotypes hold back investors.
  10. Boulding, K. (1956). General systems theory: The skeleton of science. Management Science, 2, 197–208.Google Scholar
  11. Brieger, S. A., Francoeur, C., Welzel, C., & Ben-Amar, W. (2017). Empowering Women: The Role of Emancipative Forces in Board Gender Diversity. Journal of Business Ethics. Forthcoming.Google Scholar
  12. Bulloch, A., Kroeck, G., Kundu, S., Newhouse, W., & Lowe, K. B. (2012). Women’s political leadership participation around the world: An institutional analysis. The Leadership Quarterly, 23(3), 398–411.Google Scholar
  13. Caporale, G. M., Howells, P. G., & Soliman, A. M. (2004). Stock market development and economic growth: The causal linkage. Journal of economic development, 29(1), 33–50.Google Scholar
  14. Carrasco, A., Francoeur, C., Labelle, R., Laffarga, J., & Ruiz-Barbadillo, E. (2015). Appointing women to boards: Is there a cultural bias? Journal of Business Ethics, 129(2), 429–444.Google Scholar
  15. Carter, D. A., D’Souza, F., Simkins, B. J., & Simpson, W. G. (2010). The gender and ethnic diversity of US boards and board committees and firm financial performance. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 18(5), 396–414.Google Scholar
  16. Chizema, A., Kamuriwo, D. S., & Shinozawa, Y. (2015). Women on corporate boards around the world: Triggers and barriers. The Leadership Quarterly, 26(6), 1051–1065.Google Scholar
  17. Crilly, D. (2010). Predicting stakeholder orientation in the multinational enterprise: A mid-range theory. Journal of International Business Studies, 42(5), 694–717.Google Scholar
  18. Cumming, D., Leung, T. Y., & Rui, O. (2015). Gender diversity and securities fraud. Academy of Management Journal, 58(5), 1572–1593.Google Scholar
  19. Eagly, A. H. (2005). Achieving relational authenticity in leadership: Does gender matter? The Leadership Quarterly, 16(3), 459–474.Google Scholar
  20. Eyben, R., Kabeer, N., & Cornwall, A. (2008). Conceptualizing empowerment and the implications for pro-poor growth: A paper for the DAC Poverty Network. Brighton: IDS.Google Scholar
  21. Ferreira, D. (2015). Board diversity: Should we trust research to inform policy? Corporate Governance: An International Review, 32(2), 108–111.Google Scholar
  22. Ferreira, M. A., & Matos, P. (2008). The colors of investors’ money: The role of institutional investors around the world. Journal of Financial Economics, 88(3), 499–533.Google Scholar
  23. Fiss, P. C., Cambré, B., & Marx, A. (2013). Configurational theory and methods in organizational research. UK: Emerald Group Publishing.Google Scholar
  24. García-Castro, R., Aguilera, R. V., & Ariño, M. A. (2013). Bundles of firm corporate governance practices: A fuzzy set analysis. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 21(4), 390–407.Google Scholar
  25. Glick, P. (2006). Ambivalent sexism, power distance, and gender inequality across cultures. In S. Guimond (Ed.), Social comparison and social psychology: Understanding cognition, intergroup relations, and culture (pp. 283–302). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Greckhamer, T. (2016). CEO compensation in relation to worker compensation across countries: The configurational impact of country-level institutions. Strategic Management Journal, 37(4), 793–815.Google Scholar
  27. Grosvold, J. (2011). Where are all the women? Institutional context and the prevalence of women on the corporate board of directors. Business & Society, 50(3), 531–555.Google Scholar
  28. Grosvold, J., & Brammer, S. (2011). National institutional systems as antecedents of female board representation: An empirical study. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 19(2), 116–135.Google Scholar
  29. Grosvold, J., Rayton, B., & Brammer, S. (2016). Women on corporate boards: A comparative institutional analysis. Business & Society, 55(8), 1157–1196.Google Scholar
  30. Gul, F. A., Srinidhi, B., & Ng, A. C. (2011). Does board gender diversity improve the informativeness of stock prices? Journal of Accounting and Economics, 51(3), 314–338.Google Scholar
  31. Haslanger, S. (2017). Gender and social construction. Applied Ethics: A multicultural approach, 299.Google Scholar
  32. Haugh, H. M., & Talwar, A. (2016). Linking social entrepreneurship and social change: The mediating role of empowerment. Journal of Business Ethics, 133(4), 643–658.Google Scholar
  33. Haxhi, I., & Aguilera, R. V. (2017). An institutional configurational approach to cross-national diversity in corporate governance. Journal of Management Studies, 54(3), 261–303.Google Scholar
  34. Helmke, G., & Levitsky, S. (2004). Informal institutions and comparative politics: A research agenda. Perspectives on politics, 2(4), 725–740.Google Scholar
  35. Hofstede, G. (1985). The interaction between national and organizational value systems. Journal of Management Studies, 22(4), 347–357.Google Scholar
  36. Hofstede, G. (2001). Cultures Consequences (2nd eds). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  37. Holzner, H., Neuhold, B., & Weiss-Gänger, A. (2010). Gender equality and Empowerment of Women Policy Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, Directorate-General for Development Cooperation Austrian Development Agency. Gender and Development Unit document retrieved from
  38. Jackson, G., & Deeg, R. (2008). Comparing capitalisms: Understanding institutional diversity and its implications for international business. Journal of International Business Studies, 39(4), 540–561.Google Scholar
  39. James, I. A., Southam, L., & Blackburn, I. M. (2004). Schemas revisited. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 11(6), 369–377.Google Scholar
  40. Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., de Luque, M. S., & House, R. J. (2006). In the eye of the beholder: Cross cultural lessons in leadership from Project GLOBE. Academy of Management Perspectives, 20, 67–90.Google Scholar
  41. Konrad, A. M., Ritchie, J. E., & Corrigal, E. (2000). Sex differences and similarities in job attribute preferences: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 593–641.Google Scholar
  42. Lee, L. E., Marshall, R., Rallis, D., & Moscardi, M. (2015) Women on boards: Global trends in gender diversity on corporate boards. ESG Research Inc.Google Scholar
  43. Leischnig, A., & Woodside, A. G. (2017). Who approves fraudulence? Configurational causes of consumers’ unethical judgments. Journal of Business Ethics, 1–14.Google Scholar
  44. Lemons, M. A., & Parzinger, M. (2007). Gender schemas: A cognitive explanation of discrimination of women in technology. Journal of Business and Psychology, 22(1), 91–98.Google Scholar
  45. Leung, K. (2006). Editor’s introduction to the exchange between Hofstede and GLOBE. Journal of International Business Studies, 37, 881.Google Scholar
  46. McDonald, M. L., & Westphal, J. D. (2013). Access denied: Low mentoring of women and minority first-time directors and its negative effects on appointments to additional boards. Academy of Management Journal, 56(4), 1169–1198.Google Scholar
  47. Meyer, A. D., Tsui, A. S., & Hinings, C. R. (1993). Configurational approaches to organizational analysis. Academy of Management journal, 36(6), 1175–1195.Google Scholar
  48. Misangyi, V. F., Greckhamer, T., Furnari, S., Fiss, P. C., Crilly, D., & Aguilera, R. (2017). Embracing causal complexity: The emergence of a neo-configurational perspective. Journal of Management, 43(1), 255–282.Google Scholar
  49. Mitchell, A. (2010). Women empowerment: Lynchpin of development goals. In: Achieving gender equality, women’s empowerment and strengthening development cooperation (pp. 21–24). United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.Google Scholar
  50. Moghadam, V. M., & Senftova, L. (2005). Measuring women’s empowerment: Participation and rights in civil, political, social, economic, and cultural domains. International Social Science Journal, 57(184), 389–412.Google Scholar
  51. Negash, A. (2011). Economic empowerment of women. In: N. Svensson (ed.) The role of women in promoting peace and development (pp. 125–128). Proceedings of the 10th Annual Conference on the Horn of Africa Lund, Sweden, September 23–24.Google Scholar
  52. Nelson, T., & Levesque, L. L. (2007). The status of women in corporate governance in high-growth, high-potential firms. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 31(2), 209–232.Google Scholar
  53. Oakley, J. (2000). Gender-based barriers to senior management positions: Understanding the scarcity of female CEOs. Journal of Business Ethics, 27(4), 321–334.Google Scholar
  54. Ogunleye, A. J., Olonisakin, T. T., & Adebayo, S. O. (2015). On bridging the gap in the sexual behavior of the sexes: The mediating role of culture/environment. Humanities and Social Sciences, 3(2), 88–95.Google Scholar
  55. Page, N., & Czuba, C. E. (1999). Empowerment: What is it. Journal of extension, 37(5), 1–5.Google Scholar
  56. Perrault, E. (2015). Why does board gender diversity matter and how do we get there? The role of shareholder activism in deinstitutionalizing old boys’ networks. Journal of Business Ethics, 128(1), 149–165.Google Scholar
  57. Prado, A. M., & Woodside, A. G. (2015). Deepening understanding of certification adoption and non-adoption of international-supplier ethical standards. Journal of Business Ethics, 132(1), 105–125.Google Scholar
  58. Ragin, C. (2008). Redesigning social inquiry: fuzzy sets and beyond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  59. Ragin, C. C. (2006). Set relations in social research: Evaluating their consistency and coverage. Political Analysis, 14(3), 291–310.Google Scholar
  60. Ragin, C. C., & Fiss, P. C. (2008). Net effects versus configurations: An empirical demonstration. In Redesigning social inquiry: Fuzzy sets and beyond (pp. 190–212). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  61. Ragin, C. C., & Rihoux, B. (2004). Replies to commentators: Reassurances and rebuttals. Qualitative Methods: Newsletter of the American Political. Science Association Organized Section on Qualitative Methods, 2(2), 22–24.Google Scholar
  62. Ragin, C. C., & Schneider, G. A. (2011). Case-oriented theory building and theory testing. The Sage handbook of innovation in social research methods (pp. 150–66).Google Scholar
  63. Rawwas, M. Y. A., Patzer, G., & Vitell, S. J. (1998). A cross cultural investigation of the ethical values of consumers: The potential effect of war and civil disruption. Journal of Business Ethics, 17(4), 435–448.Google Scholar
  64. Roland, G. (2004). Institutions and Economic Performance-Fast-moving and Slow-moving Institutions. CESifo DICE Report, 2(2), 16–21.Google Scholar
  65. Rutter, V., & Schwartz, P. (2000). Gender, marriage, and diverse possibilities for cross-sex and same-sex pairs. Handbook of Family Diversity, 59–81.Google Scholar
  66. Schneider, C., & Wagemann, C. (2012). Set-theoretic methods for the social sciences: A guide to qualitative comparative analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Schneider, M. R., Schulze-Bentrop, C., & Paunescu, M. (2010). Mapping the institutional capital of high-tech firms: A fuzzy-set analysis of capitalist variety and export performance. Journal of International Business Studies, 41(2), 246–266.Google Scholar
  68. Schwartz, S. H. (1999). A theory of cultural values and some implications for work. Applied Psychology, 48(1), 23–47.Google Scholar
  69. Scott, W. R. (2001). Institutions and organizations (2nd edn.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  70. Sealy, R., Doldor, E., & Vinnicombe, S. (2009). Increasing diversity on public and private sector boards. Part 1: How diverse are boards and why? Cranfield School of Management Report commissioned by the UK Government Equalities Office, October (p. 64).Google Scholar
  71. Seierstad, C., Warner-Søderholm, G., Torchia, M., & Huse, M. (2017). Increasing the number of women on boards: The role of actors and processes. Journal of Business Ethics, 141(2), 289–315.Google Scholar
  72. Sojo, V. E., Wood, R. E., Wood, S. A., & Wheeler, M. A. (2016). Reporting requirements, targets, and quotas for women in leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 27, 519–536.Google Scholar
  73. Starr, C. R., & Zurbriggen, E. L. (2017). Sandra Bem’s gender schema theory after 34 years: A review of its reach and impact. Sex Roles, 76(9–10), 566–578.Google Scholar
  74. Stewart, F. (2010). The fourth domain for gender equality: Decision-making and power. In: Achieving gender equality, women’s empowerment and strengthening development cooperation (pp. 31–36). United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.Google Scholar
  75. Stoljar, N. (1995). Essence, identity, and the concept of woman. Philosophical Topics, 23(2), 261–293.Google Scholar
  76. Sundström, A., Paxton, P., Wang, Y. T., & Lindberg, S. I. (2017). Women’s political empowerment: A new global index, 1900–2012. World Development, 94, 321–335.Google Scholar
  77. Szymanowicz, A., & Furnham, A. (2013). Gender and gender role differences in self-and other- estimates of multiple intelligences. The Journal of Social Psychology, 153(4), 399–423.Google Scholar
  78. Terjesen, S., Aguilera, R. V., & Lorenz, R. (2015). Legislating a woman’s seat on the Board: Institutional factors driving gender quotas for boards of directors. Journal of Business Ethics, 128(2), 233–251.Google Scholar
  79. Terjesen, S., & Singh, V. (2008). Female presence on corporate boards: A multi-country study of environmental context. Journal of Business Ethics, 83(1), 55–63.Google Scholar
  80. Terjesen, S., Sealy, R., & Singh, V. (2009). Women directors on corporate boards: A review and research agenda. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 17(3), 320–337.Google Scholar
  81. Useem, M. (1984). Book review: Corporate social and political action: Research in corporate and social performance and policy. California Management Review, 26(2), 141–154.Google Scholar
  82. Van der Vegt, G. S., Van de Vliert, E., & Huang, X. (2005). Location-level links between diversity and innovative climate depend on national power distance. Academy of Management Journal, 48(6), 1171–1182.Google Scholar
  83. Verweij, S., & Gerrits, L. (2012). Assessing the applicability of qualitative comparative analysis for the evaluation of complex projects. In L. Gerrits & P. Marks (Eds.), COMPACT I Public administration in complexity (pp. 93–117). Emergent: Arizona.Google Scholar
  84. Vis, B. (2012). The comparative advantages of fsQCA and regression analysis for moderately large-N analyses. Sociological Methods & Research, 41(1), 168–198.Google Scholar
  85. Warth, L., & Koparanova, M. S. (2012). Empowering women for sustainable development. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.Google Scholar
  86. Women, U. N. (2015). Progress of the World’ s Women 2015–2016: Transforming Economies. Realizing Rights (No. id: 7688).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Florida Southern CollegeLakelandUSA
  2. 2.The Pennsylvania State UniversityYorkUSA

Personalised recommendations