Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Monday, November 27, 2017

Systemic Solutions for Sexual Harassment: Majority Women in the Board Room

A Bidder for the Weinstein Company Suggests a Rare Boardroom Set Up: A Majority Female Board

Maria Contreras-Sweet, who led the U.S. Small Business Administration under President Obama, has submitted a bid to acquire the Weinstein Co., the embattled film studio grappling with multiple allegations of sexual harassment or assault against its former co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein. It includes a group of investors with female leaders from private equity, venture capital and Hollywood, according to a source familiar with the deal. It proposes retaining the company's employees and has the blessing of lawyer Gloria Allred, who is representing some of Weinstein's accusers.

 

But one aspect of the bid is getting the most attention: Its proposal to install a majority-female board of directors, with Contreras-Sweet as chairman.

 

That's partly because, some researchers argue, having more women in leadership roles is a better answer to solving sexual harassment problems than installing more training programs or anti-harassment policies. Research has shown that having male-dominated management teams can lead to the tolerance of a sexualized environment, said Alexandra Kalev, a professor at Tel Aviv University and the co-author of a recent Harvard Business Review article on the topic. "Having more women in management increases the share of women who can work to promote women and create a working environment that allows women to flourish," she said.

 

Moreover, Kalev said, having more than just one or two token women on the board is important for female board members' contributions to be heard and for them to not be viewed as outsiders who represent a woman's point of view. She said research has shown that companies are actually more likely to adopt a diversity program when they have no women on the board than when 5 percent of the board is women. Having a single woman makes boards feel as though they've taken some action, and they "feel less of an urge to adopt programs that increase diversity."

 

It's not until they get to 15 or 20 percent of directors that they start to make a difference, Kalev said. "They're not seen as representing their gender anymore, but representing the board," she said. "It mainstreams women in positions of power."

 

Frequently cited research from 2006, based on interviews with female directors, also found that it seems to take at least three women for them to create "a critical mass where women are no longer seen as outsiders" and can influence decision-making.

 

I have written some about altering the gender balance on corporate boards, as well as balancing the power structures of other institutions such as legislative bodies, academia, and workplaces to reflect gender parity of 50/50 women.  Reconsidering the Remedy of Gender Quotas, Harvard J. Gender & Law Online (Nov. 2016).

 key feminist insight on these systemic problems has focused on the importance of power. The lack of women’s power as decision makers in the workplace, politics, or science means the perpetuation of the patriarchy (yes, patriarchy) and male privilege from the top down.
Generations at the top may be outdated, but they continue to transmit the same outmoded assumptions of women’s inferiority and disqualification, reinvigorating a new generation with the same discriminatory norms and practices.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2017/11/systemic-solutions-for-sexual-harassment-majority-women-in-the-board-room-.html

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