The list of barriers to female representation in management is analogous to the list of barriers to female labor force participation. Accordingly, we examine whether low female labor force participation is the main reason few women hold seats on corporate boards using data from 22 countries over the 2001-2010 period. Using a novel country-level measure of female participation on corporate boards, we show first that the representation of women on boards across countries is actually worse than most surveys suggest. We then examine the extent to which female labor force participation and institutional and country-level characteristics are related to boardroom diversity. We find that labor force participation is significantly related to the representation of women on boards when part-time and unemployed workers are excluded. However, cultural norms, the presence of boardroom quotas and codes promoting gender diversity are also correlated with female representation. This suggests that economic and cultural factors may be important barriers to female career advancement, but that preferences may be less important. While quotas may overcome problems of discrimination, they may be too narrow a policy tool to address other causes of female underrepresentation in management.
Financial Markets Group Discussion Papers DP 715