ITHACA, NY — Female directors on Fortune 500 boards skillfully use tactics that allow them to demonstrate warmth, competence, or both, allowing them to avoid backlash and achieve specific goals, according to new research from Cornell University’s ILR School.
These tactics can help female directors achieve goals such as diversifying conversations, clarifying perspectives, and amplifying their expertise, and help them manage the “double bind”—expectations for women to express to both warmth and competence — to get things done in the boardroom, said Courtney L. McCluney, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the ILR School and second author of the research.
“Our study suggests that women directors expend an incredible amount of energy managing how and when they discuss issues, which can reduce overall board effectiveness,” McCluney said. “It further undermines the reason for diversifying the board. Do companies really want a different perspective, or do they want visibly different directors who are okay with the status quo? »
McCluney co-authored the study, “Managing the Double Bind: Women Administrators’ Participation Tactics in the Gendered Boardroom,” with Tiffany Trzebiatowski of Colorado State University and Morela Hernandez of the University of Michigan. The paper was published in Organizational sciences.
“By breaking down the types of tactics, we develop a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences of women participating in male-dominated roles, and underscore the need for researchers to incorporate a broader and more precise range of behaviors to account for the intra-gender descriptions of participation behaviors,” the authors wrote.
The researchers discovered three groups of participation tactics by interviewing 43 female directors of publicly traded companies. The heat-based tactics involved asking questions and connecting with other board members. Skill-based tactics require female directors to assert their opinions and qualify their skills. Waiting to share their perspective and checking in with others outside of board meetings were called hybrid tactics because they combined warmth and competence.
By examining how and when these directors handled the double bind with a group with whom they had only a few interactions in a year, the researchers found that the directors personalized their tactics according to their goals. Heat tactics worked better when trying to diversify conversations, for example, and skill tactics worked better when amplifying their experience. When clarifying perspectives, heat and skill-based tactics were most effective, participants said.
“Identifying what makes women participate effectively on boards expands their influence on company decisions, which can be critical for financial performance and safety recalls,” McCluney said.
Their work is timely given the current focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in organizations. Companies are increasingly focused on adding more women and members of other marginalized groups to their boards without considering whether those people will be free to participate and contribute their expertise, McCluney said. .
“Assessing the culture of corporate boards and any governing body such as the United States Supreme Court is just as important as adding traditionally excluded members to its ranks,” McCluney said. “Creating change from within will have to start with fundamental shifts in what it means to participate as a director.”
– This press release originally appeared on the Cornell University website