One-fourth of female corporate directors believe a quota should be imposed requiring a specific percentage of women on every board, while only 1% of male corporate directors hold the same view, according to responses to a survey released Wednesday by Heidrick & Struggles and WomenCorporateDirectors.
But 59% of female directors and 93% of male directors responding to the survey strongly disagree or disagree with imposing any female gender quota on corporate boards.
Among other diversity issues in the survey, 51% of female directors and 12% of male directors believe three or more women on any board make it more effective, while 16% of female directors and 61% of male directors disagree, according to responses to the survey.
Some 90% of female directors and 56% of male directors believe women bring special attributes to a board, while 10% of female directors and 44% of male directors believe they do not.
On assessing board performance, female and male directors' views were much closer on every issue. In rating their own board's performance, 90% of female directors and 92% of male directors graded their boards as good to excellent in “serving as a good steward of the company's assets for shareholders,” while 71% of female directors and 81% of male directors believe their boards have been good to excellent in setting appropriate and competitive executive compensation. On having succession planning for the CEO and other key executives, 59% of female directors and 61% of male directors rated their board's performance as good to excellent, while 68% of female directors and 75% of male directors rated their boards as good to excellent in handling mergers and acquisitions.
In approaches that would be effective in rebuilding trust in corporate boards and directors following the financial market crisis, female and male directors diverged on most issues. Some 65% of female directors and 35% of male directors believed that increased diversity on boards would be a good way to rebuild trust; 40% of female directors and 1% of males believed in enhancing risk management systems to rebuild trust; 45% of female directors and 22% of male directors believed in new compensation regulations; and 38% of female directors and 17% of male directors believed new proxy-access regulations that allow shareholders access to corporate proxy materials to nominate directors would rebuild trust. But 61% of both female and male directors agreed that requiring an independent chairman would be an effective way to rebuild trust.
The survey — sponsored by Heidrick & Struggles, an executive recruiting firm, and WomenCorporateDirectors, an organization of female directors — was conducted from February to June by Boris Groysberg, associate professor in the organizational behavior unit, and Deborah Bell, research associate, both of Harvard Business School.
They received responses from 294 female corporate directors, representing 581 boards, and 104 male corporate directors, representing 230 boards. Of the female respondents, 9% serve as chairwoman, 11% as lead directors and 80% serve as non-executive directors. Of the male respondents, 11% serve as chairman, 11% as lead director and 79% as non-executive directors.
The survey sought to examine how female directors approach their work on corporate boards and assess critical issues facing the boards compared to their male counterparts.
According to The Corporate Library — a Portland, Maine-based firm that provides data and analysis on corporate governance and executives and director compensation that wasn't involved in the survey — women make up 13.3% of directors and men make up 86.7% of directors at Standard & Poor's 500 companies as of 2009.
In The Corporate Library's coverage universe of 3,040 companies, 9.6% of the directors are female.
Among S&P 500 companies, 11% had no women on their boards, while 50% of Russell 2000 companies and 40% of Russell 3000 companies had no female directors, according to The Corporate Library.
Among the companies in the S&P 500, Russell 2000 and Russell 3000, respectively, 32%, 33% and 34% had one female director on their boards; 38%, 13% and 18% had two female directors; and 19%, 4% and 8% had more than two female directors, Corporate Library data show.
Mr. Groysberg couldn't be reached for comment.
Suzanne Oaks, spokeswoman for Heidrick & Struggles and WomenCorporateDirectors, was unable to respond with figures about female representation on corporate boards.