The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

WCW's Women Change Worlds Blog

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is the Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at Wellesley Centers for Women. Learn more about her>>

Enough with the Excuses—Corporate Boards Need Women

The controversy surrounding lack of women on Twitter’s board of directors as it is going public with an IPO, has rekindled interest in diversity on corporate boards. In research conducted at the Wellesley Centers for Women, my colleagues Vicki Kramer, Alison Konrad and I showed that having a critical mass of three or more women improves board governance. Catalyst (2007) and McKinsey (2012) subsequently reported that companies with diverse executive boards enjoyed significantly higher earnings and returns on equity. When there is a business case to be made for greater diversity on boards, the usual excuse is that there are too few qualified women, buttressed by the small number of female CEOs. But let’s look at the facts: not all male board members are CEOs. A board needs diversity in professional expertise as well as gender, race, and nationality. People making excuses for high tech companies’ lack of female board members point to the small numbers of women majoring in computer science. Again, not all male board members of high tech companies have technology backgrounds. In fact, most members of Twitter’s board members have undergraduate degrees from liberal arts colleges: one has a degree in English; another in Asian Studies. Couldn’t female experts in entrepreneurial management, intellectual property law, investment management contribute, for example, contribute positively within such a governance structure? It was smart of Twitter to include diversity of educational and work experiences on its board. Twitter (and all corporations) needs to stop making excuses and go for greater diversity, by including female, minority, and international members on its board.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she studies women's leadership and co-led the Critical Mass on Corporate Boards study.

  9647 Hits

Marriage: Love, Benefits, ...

DOMAblog Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that denying recognition and benefits to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Gay and lesbian couples who are legally married (they are able to do so in 12 states and the District of Columbia) will be able to take advantage of such benefits as tax breaks and pension rights that are available to other married couples. Further, legally married same-sex couples will have the same immigration rights as heterosexual couples. Reflecting on the Supreme Court’s ruling, I am reminded of the research study my colleagues and I launched in May 2004, when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ decision went into effect, making Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

blogpullquoteLoveBenefitsMy colleagues and I interviewed 50 same-sex couples in Massachusetts and their children. Some of the couples had chosen to get married and some had not. Whether or not a given couple chose to marry, they talked about the importance of the legitimacy and the recognition the change in the law offered them. Their sense was that when legal marriage is available to same-sex couples, the ramifications stretch far beyond the couples themselves. Perceptions of families, co-workers, neighbors, and strangers shift toward greater acceptance.

Rod* (married, in a 27-year relationship) put it this way:
It has been an amazing experience. I do feel in some fundamental way that it has changed me in the sense of legitimizing me… I always used to say, I’m married, but it wasn’t real. And now it’s real, you know? It’s real, real. You know? I mean it’s like legal real. In that way I think it fundamentally changes the way I approach the world. You know? It’s like, “Are you married?” “Yeah!” And it’s your problem to figure out who it is that I’m married to, or whether this is a straight marriage or a gay marriage or whatever. And I’m extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to do that.

Regardless of whether they believed that legalization changed their personal relationships, and whether or not they chose to marry, all respondents clearly recognized the tangible and intangible benefits that come with official state approval. These included access to family health insurance, legitimacy for second parents, and next-of-kin status in medical contexts. The issue of medical access, privileges and decision-making was specifically mentioned by a number of families. Linda and Sally, a couple who had been together for 24 years, described the importance of a marriage license for their family’s legal protection:

Linda: Well, I honestly feel like, not to be unromantic but, the marriage part was really just the medical benefits and that sort of the financial and…
Sally: Get the piece of paper.
Linda: Right and, just the things that help the family in a time of crisis.

Ada, a married woman in a five-year relationship described the transformation from a cautious to a secure position with respect to her family and their public entitlements:
If we didn’t have a legal marriage, I would feel like I was constantly on the defensive about what should I do, how I should do it and… And instead I’m able to take a much more assertive stance and be able to advocate for the family in a way I didn’t feel like I could have before, because I didn’t have anything behind me to do it.

Other respondents shared similar sentiments, identifying a sense of “safety” or protection that comes as both a formal and informal benefit of legalized marriage:

Jaidyn (married, in a ten-year relationship), said,
To be legally validated and whether or not someone likes it, we’re married. They can’t say ‘Well, that’s not real’. I think there was a feeling of safety that would come along with the legal marriage. …We were very safe in our relationship with one another, in our lives, but [now we have] safety from people who might want to deny us our civil rights.

Despite the real benefits and protections that came to same-sex couples in legalized unions in Massachusetts, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was repeatedly mentioned by study participants as a source of unequal financial burdens on couples who chose to take advantage of the availability of family benefits that were state but not federally recognized.

Leo, a married man in a 27-year relationship, described the dilemma confronting many couples in the study as they contemplated taking advantage of the new opportunity to put a same-sex partner on the other partner’s family health insurance plan.
Even though I could bring him under my health insurance, I would have to pay a tax on the contribution the state of Massachusetts--because I was a state employee. So [the contribution that] the state of Massachusetts makes towards his health insurance, I’d have to pay a tax on that. That’s a considerable amount, because the state pays seventy-five percent of the insurance. So … there are still some penalties that same-sex couples face that opposite sex couples don’t.

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court has lifted the penalties and unequal burdens. We rejoice.

[*The quotations in this piece are from “What I did for Love, or Benefits or…: Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts,” by the Same-Sex Marriage Study Group, Wellesley Centers for Women. Names of the study respondents have been changed. The paper can be downloaded for free through July 2013: http://www.wcwonline.org/pdf/paid/422.pdf . In addition to the WCW Working Paper, you can also download this publication from the study: "Never In Our Lifetime": Legal Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in Long-Term Relationships.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Members of the exploratory study of same-sex marriag in 2004-2005 were: Erkut; Ineke Ceder; Georgia Hall; Amy Hoffman; Erinn Horrigan; Gloria Luong; Jean Murphy; Anne Noonan; Konjit Page; Michelle Porche; Diane Purvin; Catherine Senghas; Lisa Sankowski; Ellen Schechter; Joyce Shortt; Allison Tracy; Jasmine Waddell; Nancy Wechsler; and Jodie Wennemer. Additional expertise was provided by Jean Hardisty; Nicolene Hengen; Karen McCormack; Nancy Marshall; Jan Putnam; and Donna Tambascio.

  7652 Hits

Fortune 500s--Where Are the Women?

WomenCorporate

Five years ago, my colleagues Vicki W. Kramer, Ph.D., Alison M Konrad, Ph.D. and I studied the effect on boardroom dynamics of increasing women’s presence. We interviewed 50 women directors, 12 CEOs (9 male), and seven corporate secretaries at Fortune 1000 companies. The results showed that the benefits of having women on a corporate board are more likely to be realized when three or more women serve on a board.

Two recent reports released by Catalyst of Fortune 500 women board directors, executive officers, and top earners, show that “women’s share of Board Director and Executive Officer positions increased by only half a percentage point or less during the past year”—the seventh consecutive year of no improvement in the number of board seats women held. The reports further demonstrated discouraging data for women of color and women’s earnings at the highest levels within the organizations.

What we found in our study—and what studies since have verified—is that women directors make distinct types of contributions that men are less likely to make. For example, they can broaden boards’ discussions to include the concerns of a wider set of stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the community at large. And even more germane to the distressing news about the lack of growth in women’s representation reported by Catalyst in “Women and Men in U.S. Corporate Leadership,” women’s presence on a corporate board has a positive impact on women in the corporation. In other words, increasing the number of women on corporate boards is a good beginning for increasing the number of women leaders in a corporation.

A recent report in the McKinsey Quarterly from April 2012 shows that diversity in the top echelons of corporate diversity is associated with better financial results. In 180 publicly traded companies in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany, companies making up the top quartile of executive board diversity (in terms of women and foreign national on senior teams) returns on equity and margins on earnings before interest and taxes of were 53% higher compared to companies in the bottom quartile.

So if top team diversity is good for the bottom line, why aren’t corporations rushing to diversify their leadership? The answer may be the persistent bias in viewing men with identical credentials to women as more competent than the women. The results of a recent experiment reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Sept. 17 can shed light on this gender bias. The study focused on the scarcity of women in academic science, where women are also highly underrepresented. In this experiment, science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a graduate student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the identical female applicant. (Faculty participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant.)

It appears that undervaluing women’s credentials, seeing them as lacking the necessary competence, to be a laboratory manager or a corporate leader, is pervasive and quite resistant to change. This gender bias operates most forcefully in situations where people are evaluating candidates with whom they have little personal familiarity. Curiously, in actual organizational settings the results of field studies (not laboratory experiments) have shown that there are few differences in how male and female managers are perceived. Greater familiarity with the actual characteristics and performance of managers one works with seems sufficient to overcome masculine biases. However, hiring and promotions decisions are made blogpullquoteFortune500sby people who do not know the candidate personally. When there is no familiarity with the person being evaluated to trump the bias that makes men seem more competent, men are chosen over equally competent women.

How are we to bring rationality to evaluating women on their merit? Becoming aware of implicit biases is a first step. Training can help us to be aware of our implicit biases. When faced with a hiring or promotion decision, we need to compel ourselves to justify an “automatic” assumption that a male candidate is more competent. Having diversity on evaluation committees is another must.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author of Inside Women's Power: Learning from Leaders.

  9295 Hits

WCW Blog

 

Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. By continuing to use our site, or clicking "Continue", you are agreeing to our privacy policy.
Continue Privacy Policy