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The Contribution of Women on Boards of Directors: Going beyond the Surface


  • Sabina Nielsen would like to acknowledge financial support from the Marie Curie European Re-Integration Grant PERG-2008-239310. Morten Huse would like to thank The Norwegian Research Council, Innovation Norway and other industry actors in Norway that funded this project.

*Copenhagen Business School, Department of International Economics and Management, Porcelaenshaven 24a, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark. Tel: 45-38152524, Fax: 45-38152400; E-mail:


Manuscript Type: Empirical

Research Question/Issue: The increased attention to women on corporate boards presents new challenges to governance research. In this paper we go beyond demography and open the “black box” of board behavior by drawing upon theories of gender differences and group effectiveness.

Research Findings/Insights: A unique survey of 201 Norwegian firms is used. The findings suggest that the ratio of women directors is positively associated with board strategic control. In addition, we find that the positive effects of women directors on board effectiveness are mediated through increased board development activities and through decreased level of conflict. However, our results show no evidence for a positive association between women directors and open debate. Nonetheless, open debate enhances board's strategic and operational control.

Theoretical/Academic Implications: Recognizing the limitations of traditional governance theories to explain the role and contributions of women on corporate boards, this paper draws upon group effectiveness and gender differences theories to shed some light on whether and how women make a difference to board effectiveness in strategic and operational control.

Practitioner/Policy Implications: Women's ability to make a contribution to the board may be attributable to their different leadership styles. The presence of women on corporate boards seems to increase board effectiveness through reducing the level of conflict and ensuring high quality of board development activities.