Daria Roithmayr is the George T. and Harriet E. Pfleger Chair in Law at USC Gould School of Law. Daria teaches and writes about the dynamics of law and social systems, focusing on the way that legal regulation and social behavior evolve in response to each other. Her recent book, Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock In White Advantage (NYU 2014), explores the self-reinforcing dynamics of persistent racial inequality.
Daria’s post is below.
Hi Kim. Thanks to you and Darren for putting this wonderful symposium together.
I want to talk in my post about limits. Reflecting on all our work, I continue to be struck by the idea that our method is too limited to do much more than what we’ve already done. As insightful as board members might be, survey work is just too crude an instrument for us to be able to get much qualitative insight. Board members might be expert on corporate decision-making, but they are far from expert on the potential substantive effect of gender on corporate decision-making.
So I am not at all surprised that, unprompted, in an open-ended interview, the board members in your study thought that gender did make a difference but were unable to come up with much in the way of examples. They are in no position to understand the way in which gender might matter or what other things women might bring to the table beyond their gender. And they are limited in what they can say about a counterfactual, though members with a lot of history might have some point of comparison.
I’m not saying that they have no insight. Certainly in our interviews as well as Aaron's, we have heard board members say similar things about the effect that women have on process. Some of these observations are grounded in real observation, no doubt. But in many of those interviews, I also hear echoes of stereotype: women are less sure of the evidence and ask more questions, or women are less risk-prone. In the French case, some of these stereotypes were more blatant than others.
In addition, to the extent that these observations are true, board members are hard pressed to tell us whether it is because the newcomers are outsiders (as French board members report) or because they are women (as the Norwegians report) or both! However insightful board members might be, they are just in no position to reflect on whether women make a substantive difference.
We can help them in that regard. We can (and do) prompt them with potential possibilities to give them the benefit of expert insight. But at the end of the day, even with regard to our results on the French quota, I don’t trust their observations to do more than raise questions we ought to study further. Their memories are unreliable, their observations affected by their own gender ideologies, and they wouldn't know how to pinpoint or describe the cause of what they were observing in any event. In short, we can't expect them to do the sociological or social psych research in our place. And of course, we can't do the work ourselves, because of the closed-door nature of corporate boards.
I continue to wonder whether some young start-up corporate board might be enticed to allow an observer to study them, with the promise of improving their decision-making, much as organizational psychologist consultants do for management decision making for many companies. I also wonder whether experiments might lend additional insight.
In sum, I think the future of this research depends on figuring out a way around these methodological limitations.
The “What’s The Return On Equality?” Mini-Symposium: