How To Get Women on Corporate Boards: Friendly Persuasion Didn’t Work, But Quotas Would

If you really want to get a bunch of business types going, mention the q-word.

That would be quotas. The only strategy that’s made much of a difference in the long fight to get women on corporate boards of directors.

There are well-intentioned efforts from New York to London to cajole and embarrass company boards into recruiting women. Helena Morrissey, the CEO of London’s Newton Investment Management, founded the “30 Percent Club” with the goal of filling 30 percent of UK board seats with women by 2015. Joe Keefe, president of Pax World, the socially responsible investors, spearheaded a push in June to send letters to the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 — there were 41 of them — who had no women on their boards.

Four months later, Keefe’s received 14 responses.

You hear a lot of talk about how we just need to get women into the pipeline and the problem will fix itself. Consider a few statistics on that. The number of women earning undergraduate business degrees reached 108,285 in 1985, up tenfold from 1971. By 2002, women surpassed men for the first time with 139,874 business degrees earned.

Yes, I know. Women may have the pedigrees, but they are just so busy abandoning their careers and having babies — what’s a corporation to do? Take some time to read the work done by the New York-based research group Catalyst Inc., which started tracking 4,100 full-time MBA graduates in 2007 to see how similarly situated male and female MBAs would do in the real world. Men started out making $4,600 more than women in their first post-graduation jobs. Even when Catalyst focused only on men and women who aspired to be senior officers, or when they looked only at men and women who had no children, they found men advancing faster and earning more.

In other words, there’s more to the problem than inferior education or time-outs for maternity leaves. Some of us call it gender discrimination.

Viviane Reding, the European Union Justice Commission, is calling for mandatory quotas of women on corporate boards. My guess is she’s right that it’s time to conclude that cajoling and pleas for self-regulation are a waste of time. I write about the flap over quotas in my column for today. Read article.

Let me know your thoughts on this issue. You can email me at or send me a note @antillaview.

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