Skip to main content

Increasing the Number of Women on Boards: The Role of Actors and Processes

Abstract

Understanding the spread of national public policies to increase the percentage of women on boards is often presented using different types of institutional theory logic. However, the importance of the political games influencing these decisions has not received the same attention. In this article, we look beyond the institutional setting by focusing on the role of actors. We explore processes that include who the critical actors that drive and determine these policies are, and what motivates them to push for change. We employ a processual design approach using a longitudinal country-comparative case study exploring the case of Norway, England, Germany and Italy. We map the political games, both inside and outside legislative areas, including the micro-politics among various actors and groups of actors in the selected countries. Data are collected through participation observations, interviews and text analyses. The study contributes by filling important gaps in the literature by embedding the discussion about women on boards in politicking and national public policies and by introducing dynamic perspectives. Finally, by using a processual design approach, we capture the reality of the women on board debates at different points of time and in different actor and motivational contexts. The study has consequences for how policy-makers and businesses may follow up and act, based on the debates.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. We define opportunistic researchers as researchers who are more interested in maximising their own output rather than contributing to the discipline, impact or policy-driven changes.

References

  • Adams, R. B., De Haan, J., Terjesen, S., & van Ees, H. (2015). Board diversity: Moving the field forward. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 23, 77–82.

  • Adams, R. B., & Ferreira, D. (2009). Women in the boardroom and their impact on governance and performance. Journal of Financial Economics, 94(2), 291–309.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ahern, K. R., & Dittmar, A. K. (2012). The changing of the boards: The impact of firm valuation of mandated female board representation. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 127(1), 137–197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Amidami, L. (2012). Donne, Banche e Sviluppo. L’Italia che cambia passo per crescere. Associazione Bancaria Italiana.

  • BBC. (2013). Vince cable: Boardrooms need more women. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21249330.

  • BBC. (2014). Germany agrees law on quotas for women on company boards. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30208400.

  • Bear, S., Rahman, N., & Post, C. (2010). The impact of board diversity and gender composition on corporate social responsibility and firm reputation. Journal of Business Ethics, 97(2), 207–221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bøhren, Ø., & Staubo, S. (2014). Does mandatory gender balance work? Changing organizational form to avoid board upheaval. Journal of Corporate Finance, 28, 152–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bradley, H. (2007). Gender. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brogi, M. (2013). Italy’s lessons learnt from Norway. In S. Machold, M. Huse, K. Hansen, & M. Brogi (Eds.), Getting women on to corporate boards: A snowball starting in Norway (pp. 187–190). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burgess, Z., & Tharenou, P. (2002). Women board directors: Characteristics of the few. Journal of Business Ethics, 37(1), 39–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burke, R. J. (1997). Women on corporate boards of directors: A needed resource. Journal of Business Ethics, 16(9), 909–915.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Callon, M. (1986). The sociology of an actor-network: The case of the electric vehicle. In M. Callon, J. Law, & A. Rip (Eds.), Mapping the dynamics of science and technology: Sociology of science in the real world (pp. 19–34). London: Macmillan.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

  • Catalyst. (2014). Board seats held by women, by country. 10. April 2014, Retrieved from: http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/board-seats-held-women-country.

  • Chang, M. L. (2000). The evolution of sex segregation regimes. American Journal of Sociology, 105(6), 1658–1701.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chapple, L., & Humphrey, J. E. (2014). Does board gender diversity have a financial impact? Evidence using stock portfolio performance. Journal of Business Ethics, 122(4), 709–723.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cyert, R. M., & March, J. G. (1963). A behavioural theory of the firm. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dahlerup, D. (1998). Using quotas to increase women’s political representation. Women in parliament: Beyond numbers. In A. Karam (Ed.), International IDEA’s handbook: Women in Parliament Beyond Numbers. Stockholm: International IDEA.

  • Dahlerup, D. (2006). Women, quotas and politics. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • De Anca, C., & Gabaldon, P. (2014). The media impact of board member appointments in Spanish-listed companies: A gender perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 122(3), 425–438.

    Google Scholar 

  • De Vos, M., & Culliford, P. (Eds.). (2014). Gender quotas for company boards. Cambridge, UK: Intersentia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dickson, L. (1997). Gender, race and employment equality in Britain: Inadequate strategies and the role of industrial relations actors. Industrial Relations Journal, 28(4), 282–291.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Esping-Andersen, G. (1990). The three worlds of welfare capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Esping-Andersen, G. (1999). Social foundations of post-industrial economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Esping-Andersen, G. (Ed.). (2002). Why we need a new welfare state. Oxford University Press.

  • European Commission. (2013). Women and men in leadership positions in the European Union, 2013.8. April 2013, Retrieved from: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/files/gender_balance_decision_making/131011_women_men_leadership_en.pdf.

  • Finocchi Mahne, C. (2013). Boards and role models for supporting the climb upwards: Italy and Women Corporate Directors (BCD). In S. Machold, M. Huse, K. Hansen, & M. Brogi (Eds.), Getting women on to corporate boards—A snowball starting in Norway (pp. 52–59). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Focus Online. (2012). „Ich bin zu allem bereit“– Viviane Reding erwägt europaweite Frauenquote, Focus. Retrieved from: http://www.focus.de/politik/ausland/eu-kommission-viviane-reding-erwaegt-europaweite-frauenquote_aid_720566.html.

  • Freidenvall, L. (2003). Women’s political representation and gender quotas—The Swedish case. The Research Program on Gender Quotas, Working Paper Series (2).

  • Freidenvall, L., Dahlerup, D., & Skjeie, H. (2006). The Nordic countries: An incremental approach. In D. Dahlerup (Ed.), Women, quotas and politics (pp. 55–82). London: Routldege.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gabrielsson, J., & Huse, M. (2004). Context, behavior, and evolution: Challenges in research on boards and governance. International Studies of Management and Organization, 34(2), 11–36.

    Google Scholar 

  • Glover, J., & Kirton, G. (2006). Women, employment and organizations. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Golfo-Mosca Law. (2011). Law 120 od 12 July, 2011. Official Gazette of the Italian Republic.

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hall, P. A., & Soskice, D. (2001). Varieties of capitalism: The institutional foundations of comparative advantage. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Heidenreich, V. (2010). Rekruttering til ASA-styrer etter innføring av kvoteringsregelen. Magma, 7(1), 56–57.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heidenreich, V. (2012). Why gender quotas in company boards in Norway—And not in Sweden? In F. Engelstad & M. Teigen (Eds.), Firms, boards and gender quotas: Comparative perspectives (pp. 147–184). Comparative Social Research (Vol 29). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

  • Heidenreich, V., & Aagoth, E. S. (2010). Rekrutteringsmønstre, erfaringer og holdninger til styrearbeid blant ASA-selskapenes styrerepresentanter. ISF Rapport (2010:011). Oslo: Institutt for samfunnsforskning.

  • Hernes, H. (1987). Welfare state and women power—Essays in state feminism. Oslo: Norwegian University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoel, M. (2008). The quota story: Five years of change in Norway. In S. Vinnicombe, R. J. Burke, D. Bilimoria, & M. Huse (Eds.), Women on corporate boards of directors: International research and practice (pp. 79–87). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Huse, M. (2011). The “Golden Skirts:” Changes in board composition following gender quotas on corporate boards. Paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand Academy Meeting in Wellington, NZ.

  • Huse, M., & Solberg, A. G. (2006). Gender-related boardroom dynamics: How Scandinavian women make and can make contributions on corporate boards. Women in Management Review, 21(2), 113–130.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Joecks, J., Pull, K., & Vetter, K. (2013). Gender diversity in the boardroom and firm performance: What exactly constitutes a “critical mass?”. Journal of Business Ethics, 118(1), 61–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kirton, G. (2006). The making of women trade unionists. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

    Google Scholar 

  • Krook, M. L. (2003). Get the balance right! Global and transnational campaigns to promote gender-balanced decision-making. International Studies Association Annual Meeting. Portland, Oregon.

  • Krook, M. L. (2007). Candidate gender quotas: A framework for analysis. European Journal of Political Research, 4(3), 367–394.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Law, J. (1992). Notes on the theory of the actor-network. Systems Practice, 5(4), 379–393.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lord Davies Report. (2011). Women on Boards. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/31480/11-745-women-on-boards.pdf.

  • Machold, S., Huse, M., Hansen, K., & Brogi, M. (Eds.). (2013). Getting women on to corporate boards: A snowball starting in Norway. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mallin, C. A. (2011). Handbook on international corporate governance—Country analyses (2nd ed.). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • McNulty, T., Zattoni, A., & Douglas, T. (2013). Developing corporate governance research through qualitative methods: A review of previous studies. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 21(2), 183–198.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Melis, A., & Gaia, S. (2011). Corporate governance in Italy: Normative developments vs. actual practices. In C. A. Mallin (Ed.), Handbook on international corporate governanceCountry analyses (2nd ed., pp. 59–92). Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

  • Nordic Council of Ministers. (2007). Norden official co-operation in the Nordic region, October 10. Retrieved from: http://www.norden.org/web/3-1-raad/3-1-5-nmr/uk/index.asp.

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Peterson, C. A., & Philpot, J. (2007). Women’s roles on U.S. fortune 500 boards: Director expertise and committee memberships. Journal of Business Ethics, 72(2), 177–196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pettigrew, A. M. (1997). What is a processual analysis? Scandinavian Management Journal, 13(4), 337–348.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Phillips, A. (1995). The politics of presence. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Post, C., & Byron, K. (2015). Women on boards and firm financial performance: A meta-analysis. Academy of Management Journal,. doi:10.5465/amj.2013.0319.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pye, A., & Pettigrew, A. (2005). Studying board context, process and dynamics: Some challenges for the future. British Journal of Management, 16(1), 27–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rasmussen, J. L., & Huse, M. (2011). Corporate governance in Norway: Women and employee-elected board members. In C. A. Mallin (Ed.), Handbook on international corporate governance—Country analyses (2nd ed., pp. 121–148). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reskin, B. (1998). The realities of affirmative action. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Robson, C. (2002). Real world research: A resource for social scientists and practitioner-researchers. Madden, MA: Oxford, Blackwell Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schulz-Strelow, M. (2013). Women on boards: Lessons learnt from Norway. In S. Machold, M. Huse, K. Hansen, & M. Brogi (Eds.), Getting women on to corporate boards—A snowball starting in Norway (pp. 179–183). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sealy, R., & Vinnicombe, S. (2012). The Female FTSE Board Report 2012: Milestone or Millstone? Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders. Cranfield, UK: Cranfield School of Management.

  • Sealy, R., & Vinnicombe, S. (2013). The Female FTSE Board Report 2013: False Dawn of Progress for Women on Boards? Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders. Cranfield, UK: Cranfield School of Management.

  • Sealy, R., Vinnicombe, S., & Singh, V. (2008). The Female FTSE Report 2008. Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders. Cranfield, UK: Cranfield School of Management.

  • Seierstad, C. (forthcoming). Beyond the business case: The need for both utility and justice rationales for increasing the share of women on boards. Corporate Governance: An International Review.

  • Seierstad, C., & Opsahl, T. (2011). For the few not the many? The effects of affirmative action on presence, prominence, and social capital of female directors in Norway. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 27(1), 44–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Singh, V., Terjesen, S., & Vinnicombe, S. (2008). Newly appointed directors in the boardroom: How do women and men differ? European Management Journal, 26(1), 48–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Skjeie, H. (1992). Den politiske betydningen av kjonn. en studie av Norsk topp politick. Oslo: Institutt for samfunnsforskning.

  • Spiegel Online. (2012). The World from Berlin: Gender Quota Proposal Is ‘Only the Beginning’. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/german-press-react-to-eu-draft-law-on-gender-quota-a-867452.html.

  • Sun, S. L., Zhu, J., & Ye, K. (2014). Board openness during an economic crisis. Journal of Business Ethics, 1–15.

  • Teigen, M. (2000). The affirmative action controversy. NORA Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies, 8(2), 63–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Teigen, M. (2012). Gender quotas on corporate boards: On the diffusion of a distinct national policy reform. In F. Engelstad & M. Teigen (Eds.). Firms, boards and gender quotas: Comparative perspectives (pp. 115–146). Comparative Social Research (Vol. 29). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

  • Teigen, M. (Ed.). (2015). Virkninger av kjønnskvotering i norsk næringsliv. Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk.

  • Terjesen, S., Aguilera, R., & 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

  • The Norwegian Government. (2008). Rules on gender representation on Norwegian company boards. Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Incusion. Retrieved January 7, 2009 from http://www.regjeringen.no/nb/dep/bld/tema/likestillingsomradet/hand-out-gender-on-boards.html?id=416864.

  • Torchia, M., Calabrò, A., & Huse, M. (2011). Women directors on corporate boards: From tokenism to critical mass. Journal of Business Ethics, 102(2), 299–317.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vinnicombe, S., Doldor, E., & Turner, C. (2014). The Female FTSE Board Report 2014: Crossing the finish line. Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders. Cranfield, UK: Cranfield School of Management.

  • Vinnicombe, S., Singh, V., Burke, R. J., Bilimoria, D., & Huse, M. (Eds.). (2008). Women on corporate boards of directors: International research and practice. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Von Werder, A., & Talaulicar, T. (2011). Corporate governance in Germany: Basic characteristics, recent developments and future perspectives. In C. A. Mallin (Ed.), Handbook on international corporate governance: country analyses (2nd ed., pp. 36–58). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walby, S. (2004). The European Union and gender equality: Emergent varieties of gender regime. Social Politics, 11(1), 4–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Walsham, G. (1997). Actor-network theory and IS research: Current status and future prospects. In A. S. Lee, J. Liebenau, & J. I. DeGross (Eds.), Information systems and qualitative research (pp. 466–480). Proceedings of the IFIP TC8 WG 8.2 International Conference on Information Systems and Qualitative Research 1997. Dortrecht: Springer Science.

  • Wang, M., & Kelan, E. (2013). The gender quota and female leadership: Effects of the Norwegian gender quota on board chairs and CEOs. Journal of Business Ethics, 17(3), 449–466.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weber-Rey, D. (2013). Professionalization on the supervisory board, diversity and women. In S. Machold, M. Huse, K. Hansen, & M. Brogi (Eds.), Getting women on to corporate boards: A snowball starting in Norway (pp. 184–186). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wettach, S. (2011). EU droht mit Zwangsquote, Wirtschaftswoche, April 8. Retrieved from: http://www.wiwo.de/erfolg/trends/frauenfoerderung-eu-droht-mit-zwangsquote/5256854.html.

  • Whittington, R. (1996). Strategy as practice. Long Range Planning, 29, 731–735.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • World Economic Forum. (2013). The global gender gap report. Geneva: Switzerland.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zattoni, A., Douglas, T., & Judge, W. (2013). Developing corporate governance theory through qualitative research. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 21(2), 119–122.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cathrine Seierstad.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Actor Interactions Norway

Appendix 2: Actor Interactions England

Appendix 3: Actor Interactions Germany

Appendix 4: Actor Interactions Italy

Appendix 5

See Table 4.

Table 4 Motivational factors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Seierstad, C., Warner-Søderholm, G., Torchia, M. et al. Increasing the Number of Women on Boards: The Role of Actors and Processes. J Bus Ethics 141, 289–315 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2715-0

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2715-0

Keywords

  • Women on boards (WoB)
  • National public policies
  • Quotas
  • Actors