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Gender Goals Could Ensure Diversity on Corporate Boards

Illustration of diverse corporate board

After years of raising awareness about the beneficial impacts of women's presence on corporate boards of directors, fewer than 20% of such seats are filled by women.

Cindy Schipani, the Merwin H. Waterman Collegiate Professor of Business Administration and professor of business law at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, says that a system of quotas like ones used in Europe would face legal obstacles in the United States. But there's another way.

"Private employers should set gender goals to address past discrimination," Schipani said.

Schipani and co-author Terry Morehead Dworkin of Seattle University address the challenges and barriers that persist in keeping women from rising to board positions in a study forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law.

The researchers studied the wide range of issues that keep women from attaining these positions, including: women are not afforded opportunities for promotions, feedback from managers, and overall participation; women tend not to apply for jobs unless they are a cookie-cutter fit; they have insufficient growth opportunities; and they tend to leave jobs because of work pressure, gender bias, and lack of work-life balance.

"Regardless of whether a so-called business case can be established regarding the effect of women in leadership on corporate performance, gender equality is a fundamental right and the environment which seems to block the pathways for women to positions of organizational leadership can be changed," Schipani said.

Media contact: Greta Guest, gguest@umich.edu