A study by Beedie School of Business professor Judy Zaichkowsky has discovered that when it comes to women in the board room, it only takes one to improve a company’s management ranking.
Previous research suggested that in order for women’s voices to be heard at the board of director’s table, there needed to be at least three women present. However, Zaichkowsky’s research found that one woman was enough to significantly improve company performance, even in male-dominated industries.
Zaichkowsky hypothesized that these positive results occur because, “When you get a woman in there, the men pay a little more attention to details.”
Zaichkowsky first became interested in the topic of women in corporate governance when she became a member of SFU’s Board of Governors. “A lot of times you’ll see something happen and you’ll think, ‘Whose dumb decision was that?’, so you’d like to somehow be in a position to make changes for the better,” she said, laughing.
When The Globe and Mail began ranking corporate governance structures in their annual Board Games segment, curiosity drove Zaichkowsky to ask the question, “Was this score related to the number of women on the board of directors?”
Zaichkowsky explained that, “There is this [existing] body of literature that says for a voice to be heard, you have to be at least a minority. Tokens are rarely heard in a group.” However, the evidence cited in support of this “critical mass” theory either came from an outdated sample or was lacking a substantial statistical basis.
After almost 10 years of research, Zaichkowsky came to a different conclusion. She explained, “What I find is, to make a difference in corporate, you don’t need three [women]. You can make a difference with one.”
In her paper, Zaichkowsky writes that “lone women were said to exhibit a certain pride in being a highly qualified corporate director. They were accustomed to their outsider status and needed no additional support from the presence of members of their own gender group.”
Jim Alampi, CEO of executive leadership firm Alampi & Associates, suggested in an interview with CNBC that these positive results may be attributed to the fact that women are more willing to ask questions and challenge the status quo.
“Even if she doesn’t think of herself as breaking new ground [. . .] she’s going to ask questions men stopped asking years ago or wouldn’t think to ask,” he said.
Some government policies — for example, in Ontario — are still pushing to set quotas based on the “critical mass” theory. Zaichkowsky’s study may change this misconception, suggesting that a lone woman “may be all it takes to provide a better governed and maybe an even more stable company.”