Gender diversity on corporate boards: when the voice is not enough

  • Sara De Masi
  • Agnieszka Słomka-Gołębiowska
  • Andrea Paci
Keywords: corporate governance; women on boards; gender diversity; board processes; critical mass; gender quota


Purpose of the paper: To understand the “black box” of boardroom behavior, we test the impact of different thresholds of female directors on a set of board processes. Using the two percentages indicated by the gender quota law, we distinguish between two possible situations that women face: (1) voicing of women’s opinions, and (2) having their voices heard.

Methodology: We employ an econometric model to test our research question on a sample of all of the 40 Italian companies listed in the FTSE-MIB between the years 2008 to 2015,

Findings: We provide evidence that when women voice to their opinion (i.e. they are represented by at least 20% of the board seats), boards devote more time to their activities, and the cognitive conflicts among members is enhanced. However, when women’s voice are heard (i.e. when the threshold of at least 33% of women is reached), boards increase the directors’ attentiveness, and women become particularly effective in boosting the cognitive conflicts.

Research limits: In our analysis we use proxies of board behaviour that are built from secondary data.

Practical implications: Our findings provide insights which have implications for gender quota regulation, and offer a new understanding of the contribution of women at decision-making position levels.

Originality of the paper: We further develop the critical mass theory in the context of women on boards, focusing on two different situations that women might face. We analyse the channel variables between women on boards and corporate governance, investigating board behaviour and board dynamics.


ADAMS R., FUNK P. (2012), “Beyond the glass ceiling: Does gender matter?”, Management Science, vol. 58, n. 2, pp. 219-235.

AGUILERA R., JACKSON G. (2003), “The cross national-diversity of corporate governance. Dimensions and determinants”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 28, n. 3, pp. 447-465.

AMASON A.C., SAPIENZA H.J. (1997), “The effects of top management team size and interaction norms on cognitive and affective conflict”, Journal of Management, vol. 23, n. 4, pp. 495-516.

BANKEWITZ M. (2018), “Board Advisory Tasks: The importance to differentiate between functional and firm-specific advice”, European Management Review, vol. 15, n. 4, pp. 521-539.

BART C., MCQUEEN G. (2013), “Why Women Make Better Directors”, International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics, vol. 8, n. 1, pp. 93-99.

BELENKY M., CLINCHY B., GOLDBERGER N., TARULE J. (1997), Women’s ways of knowing: The development of self, voice and mind, Basic Books, New York.

BELL S.T., VILLADO A.J., LUKASIK M.A., BELAU L., BRIGGS A.L. (2011), “Getting specific about demographic diversity variable and team performance relationships: A meta-analysis”, Journal of Management, vol. 37, n. 3, pp. 709-743.

BILIMORIA D, WHEELER J. (2000), “Women corporate directors: Current research and future directions”, in Women in Management: Current Research Issues, Davidson M., Burke R. (eds), pp. 138-163.

BIRD S.R. (2003), “Sex Composition, Masculinity Stereotype Dissimilarity and the Quality of Men’s Workplace Social Relations”, Gender, Work and Organization, vol. 10, n. 5, pp. 579-604.

BROWN S., KELAN E. (2020), Gender and Corporate Boards: The Route to a Seat at the Table, Routledge, New York.

BURKE R. (1997), “Women directors: Selection, acceptance and benefits for board membership”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, n. 5, pp. 118-125.

CARLI LL, EAGLY AH. (2002), “Gender, Hierarchy, and Leadership”, Journal of Social Issues, vol. 57, n. 4, pp. 629-636.

CARLI L.L. (1999), “Gender, interpersonal power, and social influence”, Journal of Social Issues, vol. 55, n. 1, pp. 81-91.

CASEY C., SKIBNES R. PRINGLE J.K. (2011), “Gender Equality and Corporate Governance: Policy Strategies in Norway and New Zealand”, Gender, Work and Organization, vol. 18, n. 6, pp. 613-630.

CHEN G., TESLUK P. (2012), Team Participation and Empowerment: A Multilevel Perspective,The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psychology, Volume 2.

COOK A., GLASS, C. (2014), “Women and Leadership”, Gender, Work and Organization, vol. 21, n. 1, pp. 91-103.

CULLEN P., MURPHY M.P. (2018), “Leading the debate for the business case for gender equality, perilous for whom?”, Gender, Work and Organization, vol. 25, n. 2, pp. 110- 126.

DAILY C.M., DALTON D.R. (2003), “Women in the Boardroom: A Business Imperative”, Journal of Business Strategy, vol. 24, n. 5, pp. 8-10.

DALTON D., DAILY C., ELLSTRAND A., JOHNSON J. (1998), “Meta-analytic reviews of board composition, leadership structure, and financial performance”, Strategic Management Journal, vol. 19, n. 3, pp. 269-290.

DE MASI S. (2021), “Boards Contributing to the Protection of the Environment: Looking at the Dynamics between In-groups and Out-groups”, International Journal of Business Research and Management (IJBRM), Computer Science Journals (CSC Journals), vol. 12, n. 2, pp. 76-88.

DE MASI S., SŁOMKA-GOŁĘBIOWSKA A., BECAGLI C., PACI A. (2021b), “Toward sustainable corporate behavior: The effect of the critical mass of female directors on environmental, social, and governance disclosure”, Business Strategy and Envirnment, vol. 30, pp. 1865- 1878.

DE MASI S., SŁOMKA-GOŁĘBIOWSKA A., PACI A. (2021), “Women on boards and monitoring tasks: an empirical application of Kanter’s theory”, Management Decision, vol. 59 n. 13, pp. 56-72.

DESANA E. (2017), “La legge 120 del 2011: luci e ombre e prospettive. Osservatorio sulla corporate governance”, RDS 2/2017.

EAGLY A, JOHANNESEN-SCHMIDT M. (2001), “The leadership styles of women and men”, Journal of Social Issues, vol. 57, n. 4, pp. 781-797.

ELY R. (1994), “The social construction of relationships among professional women at work”, In Davidson M., Burke R. (Eds), Women in management: Current research issues, Paul Chapman, London, pp. 129-43.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION. (2018), “Database on women and men in decision-making”,

FALEYE O., HOITASH R., HOITASH U. (2011), “The costs of intense board monitoring”, Journal of Financial Economics, n. 101, pp- 160-181.

FISHER D.M., BELL S.T., DIERDORFF E.C., BELOHLAV J.A. (2012), “Facet personality and surface-level diversity as team mental model antecedents: Implications for implicit coordination”, Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 97, n. 4, pp. 825-841

FORBES D.P., MILLIKEN FJ. (1999), “Cognition and Corporate Governance: Understanding Boards of Directors as Strategic Decision-Making Groups”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 24, n. 3, pp. 489-505.

FOSCHI M. (2000), “Double standards for competence: theory and research”, Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 26, n. 1, pp. 21-31.

FRANKE G., CROWN D., SPAKE D. (1997), “Gender differences in ethical perceptions of business practices: A social role theory perspective”, Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 82, n. 6, pp. 920-934.

GABALDON P., ANCA C., MATEOS DE CABO R., GIMENO R. (2016), “Searching for women on boards: An analysis from the supply and demand perspective”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, n. 24, pp. 371-385.

GABRIELSSON J., HUSE M., MINICHILLI A. (2007), “Understanding the leadership role of the board chairperson through a team production approach”, International Journal of Leadership Studies, vol. 3, n. 1, pp. 21-39.

GOODREAU S., KITTS J., MORRIS M. (2009), “Birds of feather, or friend of a friend? Using exponential random graph models to investigate adolescent social networks”, Demography, vol. 46, n. 1, pp. 103-125.

HAMBRICK D., WERDER A., ZAJAC E. (2008), “New Directions in Corporate Governance”, Research in Organization Science, vol. 19, n. 3, pp. 381-385.

HEIKES J. (1992), “When men are in the minority: The case of men in nursing”, The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 32, n. 3, pp. 389-401.

HILLMAN A., CANNELLA A., HARRIS I. (2002), “Women and racial minorities in the boardroom: How do they differ?”, Journal of Management Studies, vol. 28, n. 6, pp. 747-763.

HOLGERSSON C. (2020), “Gender and corporate boards: The route to a seat at the table”, Gender Work Organanization, vol. 28, n. 3, pp. 1195-1198.

HUSE M., GABRIELSSON J. (2019), “Value-creating boards in SMEs: Team production efforts”, In Leblanc R., Handbook of board governance, 2nd edition: Wiley, New Jersey.

HUSE M., SOLBERG S. (2006), “Gender-related boardroom dynamics: how Scandinavian women make and can make contributions on corporate boards”, Management Review, vol. 21, n. 2, pp. 113-130.

HUSE M. (2005), “Accountability and creating accountability: A framework for exploring behavioral perspectives of corporate governance”, British Journal of Management, vol. 16, n. s1, pp. 65-79.

HUSE M. (2007), Boards, Governance and Value Creation: The Human Side of Corporate Governance, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

HUSE M., NIELSEN S., HAGEN I. (2009), “Women and employee-elected board members, and their contribution to board control tasks”, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 89, n. 4, pp. 581-597.

IBARRA H. (1993), “Personal networks of women and minorities in management: A conceptual framework”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 18, n. 1, pp. 56-87.

IZRAELI D. (2000), “Women Directors in Israel”, in Burke R., Mattis M. (eds.) Women on Corporate Boards of Directors: International Challenges and Opportunities, Kluwer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp. 75-96.

JEHN K. (1995), “A multimethod examination of the benefits and detriments of intragroup conflict”, Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 40, n. 2, pp. 256-282.

JOECKS J., PULL K., VETTER K. (2013), “Gender diversity in the boardroom and firm performance: what exactly constitutes a ‘ Critical Mass?”, Journal Business Ethics, vol. 118, n. 1, pp. 61-72.

KANTER R. (1977), Men and women of the corporation, Basic Books, New York.

KANTER R. (1986), “Creating the creative environment”, Management Review, vol. 15, pp 11-12.

KIRSCH A. (2017), “The gender composition of corporate boards: A review and research agenda”, The Leadership Quarterly, vol. 29, n. 2, pp. 346-364.

KONRAD A., KRAMER V., ERKUT S. (2008), “Critical mass: The impact of three or more women on corporate boards”, Organizational Dynamics, vol. 37, n. 2, pp. 145-64.

LABELLE R., FRANCOEUR C., LAKHAL F. (2015), “To Regulate Or Not To Regulate? Early Evidence on the Means Used Around the World to Promote Gender Diversity in the Boardroom”, Gender, Work and Organization, vol. 22, n. 4, pp. 339- 363.

LAU D.C., MURNIGHAN J.K. (1998), “Demographic Diversity and Faultlines: The Compositional Dynamics of Organizational Groups”, The Academy of Management Review, vol. 23, n. 2, pp. 325-40.

LODEN M. (1985), Feminine Leadership or How to Succeed in Business Without Being One of the Boys, Times Books, New York.

MACHOLD S., FARQUHAR S. (2013), “Board Task Evolution: A Longitudinal Field Study in the UK”, Corporate governance”, An International Review, vol. 21, n. 2, pp. 147-64.

MARTINS L.L., SOHN W. ( 2022), “How Does Diversity Affect Team Cognitive Processes? Understanding the Cognitive Pathways Underlying the Diversity Dividend in Teams”, Academy of Management Annals, vol. 16, pp. 134-178.

MILLIKEN F., MARTINS L. (1996), “Searching for common threads: Understanding the multiple effects of diversity in organizational groups”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 21, n. 2, pp. 402-403.

NIELSEN S. (2009), “Why do top management teams look the way they do? A multilevel exploration of the antecedents of TMT heterogeneity”, Strategic Organization, vol. 7, n. 3, pp. 277-305.

NIELSEN S., HUSE M. (2010a), “Women directors’ contribution to board decision-making and strategic involvement: The role of equality perception”, European Management Review, vol. 7, n. 1, pp. 16- 29.

NIELSEN S., HUSE M. (2010b), “The contribution of women on boards of directors: Going beyond the surface”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, vol. 18, n. 2, pp. 136-148.

PAN Y., PARKS J. (2012), “Predictors, consequence, and measurement of ethical judgments: Review and meta-analysis”, Journal of Business Research, vol. 65, n. 1, pp. 84-91.

PEARCE J., ZAHRA S. (1991), “The relative power of the CEOs and boards of directors: Associations with corporate performance”, Strategic Management Journal, vol. 12, pp. 135-153.

POST C., BYRON K. (2015), “Women on boards and firm financial performance: A meta-analysis”, Academy of Management Journal, vol. 58, n. 5, pp. 1546-1571.

ROSS‐SMITH A., HUPPATZ K. (2010), “Management, Women and Gender Capital. Gender”, Work and Organization, vol. 17, n. 5, pp. 547-566.

SHERIDAN A., MCKENZIE F.H., STILL L. (2011), “Complex and Contradictory: The Doing of Gender on Regional Development Boards”, Gender, Work and Organization, vol. 18, n. 3, pp. 282-297.

SIMPSON R. (1997), “Have times changed? Career barriers and the token woman manager”, British Journal of Management, vol. 8, n. s1, pp. 121-129.

SIMPSON R. (2000), “Gender mix and organizational fit: How gender imbalance at different levels of the organization impacts on women managers”, Women in Management Review, vol. 15, n. 1, pp. 5-20.

SIMPSON R., LEWIS P. (2005), “An investigation of silence and a scrutiny of transparency: Re-examining gender in organization literature through the concepts of voice and visibility”, Human Relations, vol. 58, n. 10, pp. 1253-1275.

SINGH V., KUMRA S., VINNICOMBE S. (2002), “Gender and impression management: Playing the promotion game”, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 37, n. 1, pp. 77-89.

SINGH V., VINNICOMBE S. (2004), “Why so few women in top UK boardrooms? Evidence and theoretical explanations”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, vol. 12, n. 4, pp. 479-488.

SLOMKA-GOLEBIOWSKA A., DE MASI S., PACI A. (2022), “Board dynamics and board tasks empowered by women on boards: Evidence from Italy”, Management Research Review, ahead- of- print.

SKVORETZ J., FARARO T.J. (1996), “Generating Symbolic Interaction: Production System Models”, Sociological Methods and Research, vol. 25, n. 1, pp. 60-102.

STAFSUDD A. (2006), “People are strange when you’re a stranger: senior executives select similar successors”, European Management Review, vol. 3, n. 3, pp. 77- 89.

STEINER ID. (1972), Group process and productivity, Academic Press, New York.

TAJFEL H., TURNER T. (1986), “The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior”, In Worchel S., Austin W.G., Eds., Psychology of Intergroup Relation, Hall Publishers, Chicago, 7-24.

TERJESEN S., SEALY R., SINGH V. (2009), “Women Directors on Corporate Boards: A Review and Research Agenda”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, vol. 17, n. 3, pp. 320-337.

THOMPSON L.L. (2008), Making the Team: A guide for Managers, (3rd ed.) Prentice Hall, NJ.

TORCHIA M., CALABRÒ A., HUSE M. (2011), “Women Directors on Corporate Boards: From Tokenism to Critical Mass”, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 102, n. 2, pp. 299-317.

TORCHIA M., SEIERSTAD C.,WARNER-SØDERHOLM G., HUSE M. (2017), “Women on boards: Beyond the institutional setting-The role of stakeholders and actors”, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 141, n. 2, pp. 289-315.

VAFEAS N. (1999), “Board meeting frequency and firm performance”, Journal of Financial Economics, vol. 53, n. 1, pp. 113-142.

VAN DIJK H., MEYER B., VAN ENGEN M., LOYD D.L. (2017), “Microdynamics in diverse teams: A review and integration of the diversity and stereotyping literatures”, Academy of Management Annals, vol. 11, n. 1, pp. 517-557

VAN EES H., GABRIELSSON J., HUSE M. (2009), “Toward a behavioral theory of boards and corporate governance”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, vol. 17, n. 3, pp. 307-319.

VAN KNIPPENBERG D., SCHIPPERS M.C. (2007), “Work group diversity”, Annual Review of Psychology, n. 58, pp. 515-541.

WEBSTER M.J.R., FOSCHI M. (1988), Status generalization: New theory and research, Stanford University Press.

WEST C., ZIMMERMAN D. (2002), “Doing gender”, In Fensternmaker S., West C. (Eds), Doing gender, doing difference, Routledge, London, pp. 3-23.

WAGEMAN R. (1995), “Interdependence and group effectiveness”, Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 40, n. 1, pp. 145-180.

WILEY C., MONLLOR-TORMOS M. (2018), “Board Gender Diversity in the STEM&F Sectors: The Critical Mass Required to Drive Firm Performance”, Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, vol. 25, n. 3, pp. 290-308.

ZATTONI A., HUSE M., GNAN L. (2015), “Does family involvement influence firm performance? Exploring the mediating effects of board processes and tasks”, Journal of Management, vol. 41, n. 4, pp. 1214-1243.

ZELECHOWSKI D., BILIMORIA D. (2004), “Characteristics of Women and Men Corporate Inside Directors in the Us”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, vol. 12, n. 3, pp. 337-342.

ZONA F., ZATTONI A. (2007), “Beyond the black box of demography: board process and task effectiveness within Italian firms”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, vol. 15, n. 5, pp. 852-864.