A Direct Line: Why So Few Women on Listed Company Boards? Male Directors Explain
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The purpose of this research was to find out how, as primary ‘gate-keepers’, male directors explain the low number of female directors on listed company boards in Aotearoa New Zealand. There has been glacial progress toward achieving more gender balance on listed company boards, and whether justified by the business case or social justice case, this state of affairs needs to change. The qualitative methodology employed 10 in-depth semi-structured interviews and a descriptive interpretive research design, to provide insights that augment the quantitative data already available. The study illustrates that there is support amongst male directors for more gender balance on listed company boards, but this is based almost exclusively on the business case, and only a limited segment of it. It goes on to demonstrate how male directors identify a myriad of often inter-linked reasons for the low number of women around their board tables. The reasons can be categorised into: supply-side explanation themes, at the micro-level, to do with the women themselves; and demand-side explanation themes at both the meso-level, to do with the board environment, as well as those at the macro-level, to do with the wider business landscape. Nineteen explanation themes were identified, with the most commonly raised and widely agreed upon being the ‘pool problem’, centred around the perception that there are not enough women with the right type of experience for governance in the listed company arena. Unlike quantitative and survey data, this investigation provides a direct line to the primary gate-keepers of listed company boards, the male directors, and gives them an opportunity to voice in their own words, why they believe there are so few women serving on those boards. It fills a gap in knowledge about women on boards, offering a unique New Zealand perspective as a point of comparison to other countries, but more importantly providing a rare local resource for large domestic businesses. The findings have the potential to be used as a practical means to address a current business issue. Directors can reflect on the findings and consider how they might improve their own and their board’s practices to increase the proportion of women on boards at a faster pace. Change agents can leverage the explanation themes to inform the development of local material and programmes tailored to chairs and directors of listed companies, and other key audiences to achieve the same end. And finally, the findings offer a springboard to many future research opportunities.