Men v Women: Who is better for your Board of Directors?

Business Communications ROI

Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson

Wednesday, July 28, 2010    

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“Boards with three or more women are much more likely to ensure effective two-way communication between the organisation and its stakeholders than all-male boards (86 per cent vs. 71 per cent).” — Conference Board of Canada

WHETHER we like it or not, it is the men who rule the corporate world. They are the king makers and the destroyer of dreams. They can make you and they will break you. Nowhere is this male dominance played out more than in the composition of boards of directors and not just in boardrooms across Jamaica — but worldwide. This is not an accusation or one of my veiled ‘bad-mind’ attacks against err... ye ole boys’ club but a considered look at the efficacy of greater gender diversity for stronger corporate governance, a.k.a. more women onboard please.

A 2007-2008 study entitled ‘Gender and Governance: Implications for Women’s Participation on Boards and Commissions in Jamaica,’ done under the direction of a project steering committee of representatives of associations of women’s organisations in Jamaica confirmed “the continued domination of men at senior levels of governance and leadership in Jamaica”. Men accounted for 71 per cent of the overall sample and were even more dominant in the private sector, with only 16 per cent of places on corporate boards of publicly listed companies in the sample being occupied by women. According to the Consultant Researcher, Carol Watson-Williams, women were markedly absent on boards in the sample which dealt with financial management and investment, both in the public and private sectors.

Way across the pond in North America, the Conference Board of Canada study says that the number of women on boards has “increased steadily over the past 30 years, but, since 1998, has plateaued at low levels. This mirrors a loss of momentum in the adoption of improved corporate governance practices among Canada’s major firms following a quantum leap in governance initiatives during the 1994-1997 period.” Ref Conference Board of Canada Study of Women in Corporate Governance (2002)

Women on Boards: Not Just the Right Thing... But the “Bright” Thing by David A H Brown, Debra L Brown and Vanessa Anastasopoulos.

Women have for the most part always played the supporting handmaid role which is not as bad as it sounds because the one thing about working with your hands is that you are most likely to roll up your sleeves and actually get things done. And don’t get it twisted — there are some women in executive management and at the director’s level who have more testicular fortitude than the ‘Hulk’. In fact on a not so hectic day in the boardroom of BlueChip Company Ltd such a woman could leave the poor green man whimpering in the furthest corner of the boardroom — sans pants.

Yes, there are times, when the best man for the job will be a woman. However, one of the main reasons that women are not more evenly represented on boards and executive teams is that most of us have been trained and acculturated to see each other as ‘the enemy’ and to speak and act disparagingly towards each other whilst men have mastered the art of egochecking, networking and teambuilding. Most men understand implicitly, for example, the tacit skills the Spanish team used to win the 2010 FIFA World Cup. These are skill sets that many of us women have still not managed (after all these years) to hone and use to our best advantage. While some of us ladies are busy making snide remarks about our colleagues’ dress/shoes/car, men have held sway with a single piece of fashion accessory — the old school tie. I am not sure if we have indeed come a long way, baby.

And yet the possibilities of strong corporate governance lie within a more gender diverse board. According to the Conference Board of Canada Study, boards with three or more women are much more likely to ensure effective two-way communication between the organisation and its stakeholders than all-male boards (86 per cent v 71 per cent.) Says the study, “Transparency and communicating to broader constituencies can be enhanced by more diverse boards, by better understanding stakeholder perspectives and by bringing different communication styles to the top of the organisation.”

I stand corrected but among the publicly listed Jamaican companies there are very few boards of directors with three or more female members. Scotia DBG Investments Ltd.; BNSJ and Pulse Investments’ Eleanor Brown, Hilary Phillips and Lois Sherwood were the notable exceptions. Apart from that, tokenism reigns supreme on our boards of directors. Using the latest compendium of information which cites Board composition (Jamaica Stock Exchange Yearbook 2008) I found ‘lone female rangers’ at: Seprod, Melanie Subratie; RJR, Patricia Robinson; JLA, Andrea Sweeny. Meanwhile in the digital age of the twenty-first century, companies such as Carreras, Hardware and Lumber and Kingston Wharves Ltd. are among the boards which have no female members. What’s up with that?

The necessity for more women on boards should not be seen as just a numbers’ game The Canadian report suggests a link between female numbers on boards and good-governance credentials. For example, it found that more gender-balanced boards tended to: pay more attention to audit and risk oversight and control; more often considered the needs of more categories of stakeholders; examine a wider range of management and organisational performance whilst 94 per cent of boards with three or more women (compared to 58% of all-male boards) insist on conflict-of-interest guidelines.

Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, (MBA, ABC) is a Business Communications Consultant with ROCommunications Jamaica, specialising in business communications and financial publications. She can be contacted at: Visit her website at and post your comments.




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