Resistance to Change in the Corporate Elite: Female Directors’ Appointments onto Nordic Boards

Journal of Business Ethics 141 (2):267-287 (2017)
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Abstract

In this empirical study, we investigate the variation in firms’ response to institutional pressure for gender-balanced boards, focusing specifically on the preservation of prevailing practices of director selection and its impact on the representation of women on the board of directors. Using 8 years of data from publicly listed Nordic corporations, we show societal pressure to be one of the determinants of female directorship. Moreover, in some corporations, the director selection process may work to maintain “a traditional type of board”. In such boards, demographic diversity among male members appears to be associated with a lower share of female directors, although we cannot establish wether this reflects discrimination or a desire to maintain critical competencies. With this paper we add to the theoretical understanding of the factors underlying female board appointments by adopting an institutional theory lens to study female board representation. Viewing the demands for gender-balanced boards in terms of societal pressure for the de-institutionalization of the prevailing norms and practices, we highlight preferences for maintaining established practices as a potentially important barrier to institutional change. On these grounds, we conjecture on the relationship between the gender diversity of boards and other diversity dimensions. We suggest that a board room gender quota is supplemented by policies to ensure the transparency of board changes, in order to prevent the crowding out of other diversity dimensions.

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