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Board gender diversity, quotas and critical mass theory

Frank Lefley (Department of Economics, University of Hradec Kralove, Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic)
Václav Janeček (Department of Economics, University of Hradec Kralove, Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 13 April 2023

Issue publication date: 20 March 2024

1187

Abstract

Purpose

The corporate communications literature recently focused on corporate board gender diversity, specifically looking at two central aspects: gender quotas and equitable target percentages for women on corporate boards. This paper extends the debate by focusing on board gender diversity and critical mass theory.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper gives a conceptual viewpoint on the issues raised in the literature on board gender diversity through a critical mass theory lens.

Findings

Following the 2022 European Union (EU) directive, all EU member states will have to attain a 40% women representation on large corporate boards to achieve board gender diversity and what has been termed a “critical mass”. However, the literature indicates that gender diversity benefits may not be achieved if a critical mass is not composed of independent women directors who create a voice that produces a collective action. The authors highlight why a critical mass may not be achieved. The inconsistency in prior research linking corporate board gender diversity to economic performance may result from the critical mass of women directors not reflecting an independent collective action. However, as gender-diverse boards evolve, the authors argue that women will not just be seen as female directors but will be accepted on equal terms with their male counterparts and have an equal voice; gender will no longer be an issue and critical mass theory may then become irrelevant.

Practical implications

From a corporate communications perspective, this study will focus the minds of human resources (HR) professionals on the importance of the composition of women on corporate boards if the HR professionals wish to obtain the full potential benefits of board gender diversity. Theoretically, this study highlights the importance of critical mass and collective action when researching the economic benefits of corporate board gender diversity. Investment analysts may wish to look more closely at the structure of corporate boards and not just the numbers.

Originality/value

This paper gives a conceptual viewpoint on the critical mass theory and corporate board gender diversity, identifying that it is not just the numbers that are important but also the issue of minority independence and collective action, and this is, therefore, unique in this respect. Future research should identify if a critical mass (not just numbers) of women on corporate boards has been achieved. Only then that the linkage, based on critical mass theory, between board gender diversity and corporate performance/profitability can be made. Knowing whether board sizes are being increased to accommodate the added female directors would be also interesting, or will the new female directors replace existing male directors? However, the most important research question, once gender diversity has been achieved, could be: Is critical mass theory relevant with respect to board gender diversity?

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Editor of CCIJ and the reviewers for their constructive comments and guidance in preparing the revision of this paper.

Citation

Lefley, F. and Janeček, V. (2024), "Board gender diversity, quotas and critical mass theory", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 139-151. https://doi.org/10.1108/CCIJ-01-2023-0010

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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