Even the Most Powerful Business Women Are Told to Shut Up, Study Finds


When we think of women’s inequality in regards to corporate boards, we instinctively think of the lack of women that are present on these boards. Because women in the United States hold only 16.6% of board seats, this is a valid concern.

However, a study that was recently released by the Harvard Business School in conjunction with Heidrick & Struggles and Women Corporate Directors found that even amongst the few women that have board seats, there are still numerous barriers that are imposed as a result of gender. The study surveyed approximately 300 women and 100 men. 

These barriers included not being taken seriously in comparison to their male counterparts and numerous personal sacrifices those women corporate board members needed to make in comparison to male corporate board members. Another study found that "90 percent of male board members are married, versus 72 percent of female members, and 90 percent of the men have children, versus 64 percent of the women." 

On average, the ratio of divorced individuals to married individuals with children was higher for women then for males, some individuals suggest that this is because of the fact that the United States does not have a governmental paid parental leave scheme. The survey also found that women felt they weren't listen to and often needed to work harder in order to obtain positions on corporate boards in comparison to their male counterparts.

The results of the survey raised some interesting questions including the idea of quotas for corporate boards, which are imposed in many countries, specifically in Norway where the quota is that women must hold forty percent of corporate board positions. In other countries, such as Finland, companies that do not have women on corporate boards need to explain why not. I personally feel as if quotas tokenize women and we should not impose a system that encourages the promotion of women because they have two X chromosomes. However, women should be appointed to these positions based on merit, but more importantly they should be expected to have equal qualifications as their male counterparts. Then, it is up to corporate boards to recognize the barriers that are unnecessarily created for women and to address them one step at a time.

It is also important to note that this survey would have been more revealing if the study surveyed an equal proportion of men and women in order to truly analyze corporate board structure and barriers. What are your thoughts? What can be done to change this culture? Do you believe in a quota system? Why do you think we have created a culture where female corporate board members need more qualifications than male corporate board members?