Management is (more) for women. Ten years after the Golfo-Mosca Act mandated increasing quotas of women directors on the boards of public companies, the goal has been achieved: the number of female directors has risen from around 7% in 2011 to 37% in 2020, according to Consob sources.
Still, gender equality struggles to enter the agendas of boards and organizations at large. This is what emerges from a qualitative research conducted by SDA Bocconi Diversity, Inclusion & Smart working Monitor’s Simona Cuomo and Zenia Simonella in partnership with Valore D and sponsored by Generali and McKinsey.
The researchers interviewed about 140 directors (mostly independent female directors), CEOs, board chairs and some opinion leaders (journalists and members of major institutions) between June 2020 and February 2021. Most of them acknowledged the Golfo-Mosca Act brought about “a breath of fresh air” to bodies often tapping into restricted networks, and overturned established mechanisms for choosing directors. This process helped change the face of boards, even if the number of women accessing boards is still limited and this has generated similar interlocking phenomena to those happening for male directors.
The research showed that the contribution of women has been important to enrich the activities of boards in terms of higher demand for transparency and in-depth analysis of information available to boards, a stronger care for compliance and matching regulation and, more generally speaking, new perspectives in tackling issues and more harmonic relational dynamics defusing conflict. On the whole, women have been perceived as more effective in control activities than organizational and business issues, in part because those women who did join boards were more often professionals and academics than managers.
Expectations about female directors advocating for diversity & inclusion and especially the gender gap on boards have mostly gone unmet. The research showed that commitment to gender gap and diversity & inclusion management strategies in general was occasional and on an individual basis. “That is why as an association we have been working for a while to prepare women and men, who are essential allies, to show how strategically valuable it is for companies to work on diversity and inclusion as a key element in growing and making business sustainable,” said Barbara Falcomer, General Director of Valore D.
The research also showed that in most cases board discussions about diversity were a result of previous work by board committees, of sharing with management and using resources already available for boards to tackle the topic at a broader organizational level. Some interviewees pointed out that pressure and lobbying by women directors were infrequent. This was mainly because they widely thought of gender equality as actionable, as a question of management to be dealt with by CEOs and CHROs. Awareness was still lacking about human resources policies being an inherent part of corporate strategy and a key factor for success.
“Although various places and instruments exist for boards to trigger discussion, the matter does not seem to have fully made the boards’ agendas during these first ten years of the Act being applied,” Simona Cuomo concluded. “As a consequence, a transmission belt does not appear to have been created between boards and organizations to strongly foster gender equality at all organizational levels. According to the people we talked to, pressure on ESG topics (Environment, Social, Governance) by institutional investors, above all, will be the ultimate incentive for companies to consider gender equality as a strategic issue.”
SDA Bocconi School of Management.