gender quotas and boards of directors

Siri Ann Terjesen is an assistant professor of management and international business at Indiana University. She is an entreprenuership researcher and she also does work on supply chains and related issues. This guest post addresses gender and management.

I am hoping that orgtheory readers can offer some new theoretical angles for a relatively new phenomenon: national legislation to set gender quotas (usually of 33%-40%) for boards of directors, usually with a short time horizon (3-5 years) and targeted to publicly-traded but also state-owned enterprises. The first country to adopt a gender board quota was Norway, in December 2003- setting a 40% quota for state-owned firms by 2006 and for publicly-traded firms by 2008. Since then, ten countries have implemented quotas (Spain, Finland, Quebec in Canada for SOEs, Israel, Iceland, Kenya for SOEs, France, Italy for SOEs, and Belgium) and another 16 have softer ‘comply or explain’ legislation. The mandatory quotas have potentially tremendous impact at multiple levels: from individuals’ careers and ambitions to creating new boardroom composition and dynamics, to challenging targeted firms to establish greater levels of female leadership at the board level, and providing an example for other countries. I recently surveyed the fast-growing academic literature on gender board quotas (about 80 articles, book chapters, working papers, and conference papers, all in the last 7 years, most in the last 2 years) and it is generally a-theoretical with the exception of some work on institutional theory and path dependency (as antecedents and inputs to the process of legislation) and a little bit on tokenism (back to Kanter’s 15% in 1977). Dear readers, any thoughts for promising theoretical perspectives?

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Written by fabiorojas

February 12, 2014 at 12:01 am

2 Responses

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  1. You might want to check out Kelly & Dobbin (1998) article entitled ‘How Affirmative Action Became Diversity Management.’ You may already be familiar with it.


    Chris M

    February 12, 2014 at 5:24 am

  2. Some work on this has been done by my colleague Siri Sørensen in her thesis work from last year, but with a more policy framing type of framework. Most of it is in Norwegian, but there is one article called “Virtuous reason? Knowledge and learning in policymaking: the case of corporate board gender quotas in Norway” in the dissertation that uses a co-productionist framework (mostly Jasanoff, but also Keller) to show how gender research was used to set the scene for gender quotas. I can see if I can get a copy for you if you’re interested.


    Henrik Karlstrøm

    February 12, 2014 at 10:36 am

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