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March 24, 2015

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Daria Roithmayr

Hi John:

Nice to meet you, so to speak! I figured I would just respond in comments so it's all in one place. First, my bad on the survey work--I misspoke. I meant to say qualitative, not survey. Of course you are right that ethnographic work is much richer.

On the rest of your post, I think we might be talking past each other a bit. I certainly wasn't indicting your survey qua the question you asked. Certainly it is interesting to know what the board members' story is on whether gender matters. I find their understanding to be of interest. But on the larger question of whether gender actually matters, which I find quite pressing given the amount of ink that's been spilled on it, the board members' story is a data point that might have relatively little probative value. Board members are experts on corporate operations, if that. They have no expertise on gender, on gender's link to perspective or decisionmaking, on gendered perspective and decisionmaking, or on any other mechanism by which gender might shape decisionmaking process or corporate performance. Those are not the subjects that non-experts have much insight about, and often they have stereotyped and sexist views about those subjects (as the responses from France make clear, in any event.) We won't be able to get very far on the question of whether gender ACTUALLY matters using board members interviews as our primary material. That's what my post was about.

Kim Krawiec

Hi Daria -- thanks for joining the discussion!

"I certainly wasn't indicting your survey qua the question you asked."

I thought that we had just agreed that this wasn't a survey? No matter. I certainly don't disagree with your statements about the proper purpose of ethnographic research -- something that we discuss at some length in published work. I do find your assumptions about directors' limited expertise on gender issues interesting. That is no doubt true for some directors. But many (particularly female) directors are quite well versed in the research on gender. Much of that research is produced in the business schools that they attended. Others are, or were, academics. So I don't necessarily agree that a bunch of law professors understand gender's role in decision-making better than directors. Indeed, I would argue that this is another interesting aspect of the interviews. When are their statements about the effect of gender in the boardroom a function of their personal experience and observation, versus what they've learned is supposed to happen in diverse groups?

Aaron Dhir

Hi there.  Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, Daria.  Like Kim, I also find your views on director's expertise vis-a-vis gender interesting.  As with Kim's fieldwork, I found my female interviewees to be very well versed on gender issues.  I was actually struck by how deeply they had thought about them.  But in addition to their awareness of the academic research, I think this is also because they've been part of gendered situations their whole lives.  The women I interviewed routinely spoke about their gendered experiences in other contexts - in prior/current jobs, in navigating positions of power and high powered careers etc.  I think they have lots of expertise on gender - the type that flows from lived experience. As John noted in his post, the perspectives of female directors will necessarily be incomplete or partial. But at least those I interviewed offered genuine insights into the role of gender in corporate governance.  All best, Aaron

Daria Roithmayr

Ha! I'm surprised at the push back from you three! I'd expected that our energy would be spent brainstorming about how to get past the limitations rather than arguing about whether they exist. Certainly in the world of social science, the existence of these limits is an uncontroversial point.

But to belabor the point a bit more...Female interviewees certainly will be well-versed on the lived experience of being a woman on a board. And certainly their experiences help social scientists to formulate a hypothesis about what might be happening. But that won't give women directors the requisite scientific expertise to stand in for researchers, to make reliable assessments about the narrow question under discussion--the effect of gender on the substantive decisions that affect corporate performance. This is particularly true when they are answering questions as their primary activity, even if open-ended ones. Even acknowledging that some women directors have read research on gender as students, and that a few of them might have been academics in a former life, that's a far cry from giving qualitative interviews with them any real probative weight.

At the end of the day, I don't think even we law professors have the best expertise, to be sure--you'll note that the original post tagged sociologists and social psych folks as the go-to people. In any event, for purposes of this discussion, I think we've ridden this horse as far as it will go. Perhaps we can all agree on John's point, that on the question of the link between gender and performance, the qualitative answers of male and female directors are necessarily (quite) incomplete and (very) partial. Thanks for the exchange!

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