• Corporate Governance;
  • Gender Discrimination;
  • Board of Directors;
  • Glass Ceiling


Manuscript Type: Empirical

Research Question/Issue: This study seeks to find evidence of discrimination behind the scarce presence of women on Spanish boards of directors through factors within firms linked with different theories of discrimination.

Research Findings/Insights: Using data on the boards of directors from the top 1,000 Spanish companies in 2005 and 2008, we identify some signals of discrimination. We find that women directors are scarcer in those sectors where there are fewer female managers or where the directors mainly draw on the firm's executive staff. There is also evidence of the dynamics of Becker's theory of discrimination, since time and competition seem to play in favor of a female presence on Spanish boards. We also find a contagion effect, implying a positive relationship between the number of women already on the board and the likelihood of adding a woman. This could signal some kind of underestimation of women's skills and preconceptions about their attitudes (such as risk-aversion) and hence their capacity to hold these positions.

Theoretical/Academic Implications: This study provides empirical support for the prediction of Becker's theory of discrimination. The study also furnishes evidence in favor of the existence of false preconceptions concerning the skills and risk attitudes of female managers.

Practitioner/Policy Implications: In order to reduce discrimination before reaching the board we propose to implement education and mentoring initiatives to improve the training of the female candidates, and to improve the work- and family-life balance. Once they are included in the pool of candidates the implementation of good corporate governance practices related to transparency and objectivity in selection procedures and/or even the establishment of a women's quota on boards may contribute to dismiss employers' negative beliefs about the capabilities of female candidates.