The Problem with Women on Boards

The problem with Women on Boards is that there is not enough of them, (only 12.5{2d8ca8a57a2be9c4e7c5f608c633b8d2972cbc20ea13f00e48eca0a2f3e4a9f8} for FTSE100 Boards by December 2010), despite the strong business case and evidence to demonstrate that companies perform better with a diverse board in place, as highlighted earlier this year by Lord Davies in his “Women on Boards” report.

With a real push to address the gender balancing of boards, revisiting the basics wouldn’t be amiss.

Why Women are not Promoted

The percentage of women in senior positions is small. There is plenty of research explaining why the significant proportion of posts are held by men, including references to the ease of building strong rapport and relationships where the same thinking and behavioural traits are shared  and that is where the problem starts in promoting women. Nature has dictated that the differences in the two genders are significant enough to create misunderstandings in the workplace, leading to reduced effectiveness and performance.

By understanding that there are differences and knowing the impact of these differences, an awareness is raised that causes a paradigm shift in mindsets to embrace them as a positive attribute bringing diversity of thinking and a fresh perspective.


What are the Differences?

Before reading on, please be aware there are more similarities than differences and what is presented here is an insight into some of the different behaviours exhibited in the majority of cases from statistical evidence and is not intended to stereotype any one group as there will always be exceptions. (Remember your frequency distribution diagrams!)
Research has shown that there are major physical differences in the brain of the two genders impacting on the way we think, behave and feel about a situation in addition to the hormonal differences contributing to differences in moods and behaviours. Typical differences include:

Men Women
  • interrupt more
  • appear more confident
  • boast more
  • oppose and debate more
  • take higher risks
  • display more directness
  • forge ahead
  • look for gaps, conflict, weaknesses
  • in it to win it
  • quickly get to point and take risks
  • allow themselves to be interrupted
  • seek more opinion
  • praise more
  • apologise more
  • ask more questions
  • show less authority
  • need to justify
  • look for areas of agreement
  • want to engage
  • explore every detail before concluding


The Way Forward
Men often prefer pyramidal hierarchal models and women often prefer flatter hierarchies. The result; Men often approach conversations in order to exchange information and establish themselves in the hierarchy, compared to women, who by desiring level playing fields, down play their authority. By appreciating how differently men and women approach problems, present solutions and engage with the teams, the barriers that cause frustrations (arising from misunderstandings) are broken down.
Misunderstandings work in two directions, the key to overcome the majority of misunderstandings include:

  • Clarity in communication – understanding what has not been said as well as what is being said.
  • An appreciation of different behavioural styles and preferences of those you interact with on how communication is received and interpreted.
  • Respecting the differences.

So there you have it, a brief insight into some of the problems of why women are often overlooked for board positions. For more information on where to find research papers and documents supporting the above or information on the success of diverse boards, contact me at