The topic of boardroom diversity is a constant in the world of corporate governance. Indeed, I myself have written about it on several occasions. The attention of course, is justified. The lack of gender diversity amongst the boards of public, private and non-profit organizations is troubling – especially when you consider the objective data that links high performing public companies with the degree of gender diversity on their boards.
There are many reasons for the lack of gender diversity on boards – and they have all been discussed at length in several forums (including ours). But there is one reason that does not receive much attention: other women. That’s right, women not helping women. Trust me, this is not a revelation. Women know that other women are often an impediment to their entrance to the boardroom. My assumption is that it is likely one of the most frustrating issues for the many women-based initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women in the boardroom.
Unfortunately, it is not just limited to the boardroom. Peggy Drexler of The Wall Street Journal wrote about the “queen bee syndrome” in a recent article (http://tinyurl.com/bffp8p4). According to Drexler the queen bee syndrome got its name from a research study at the University of Michigan in the 1970s. The study found that women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women. The argument was that the patriarchal culture of work encouraged the few women who rose to the top to become obsessed with maintaining their authority.
Drexler believes that the queen bee syndrome is very much alive and well today despite the “mass ascent” of women to management positions. I believe the syndrome has also greatly impacted the rise of women in the boardroom. I was recently speaking with a very senior director at an internationally based professional firm. He told me of how he had been contacted by the Nominating Chair of a mid-cap public company looking for the names of qualified female director candidates to potentially fill two open slots. He turned to his team of 15 managers and asked them to each come up with a few names. To him, the results were shocking. All of the male members of his team got back to him with suggestions for qualified women candidates. However, the women members of his team, all came up empty. Although he had previously seen instances of women undermining other women in the workplace as a means of cutting away competition, this was the first time he had seen it in the boardroom setting. He knew that the women managers on his team were aware of very qualified female candidates for this board, but they simply did not want to put them forward.
As a male, it is somewhat uncomfortable writing this blog post. I know full well that today’s male-dominated boardrooms have a long way to go in embracing boardroom diversity. However, it is also now clear to me that women of power and influence have a long way to go in doing their part to help other women take their seats around the boardroom table.
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