Absence of women executives 'costing US, UK, Indian companies billions'

Research by Grant Thorton has shown that companies with women on their board dramatically out-perform similar companies with male-only boards.

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In an analysis of listed companies in India, the UK and United States, Grant Thornton estimated the cost of male-only boards in the three nations at £430 billion last year in terms of lower returns on investments.The report, Women in Business: the Value of Diversity, found that one in 10 of the companies surveyed had women board executives involved in day-to-day business operations. The cost to male-only US companies was estimated at £373 billion in the US, £49 billion in the UK and £9 billion in India.Francesca Lagerberg, global leader for tax services at Grant Thornton, said, "The research clearly shows what we have been talking about for a while: that diversity leads to better decision-making. We only looked at listed companies in three markets and the figures are compelling. Now imagine extrapolating the results for all companies globally."However, just one in ten of the companies we analysed have women board executives. I believe that organisations have not seen a clear business case for change but the work we have done articulates the advantages of diverse boards in a language that businesses will understand."If companies don't instigate change then their investors will quickly become concerned they are missing out on potentially huge performance benefits. These investors need to put pressure on their portfolio companies and work with non-executive teams to progress conversations to ensure they're taking a diligent approach to board composition."And finally, these findings are a prompt to governments. Business run by diverse boards are generating greater returns on the assets they employ. In an era when productivity puzzles persist and economies trade within globalised markets, facilitating female participation at a decision making level within companies might just give them a competitive advantage."The Financial Times commented, "The study adds to a growing body of research that has linked corporate performance and female directors. US academics published a paper last year that combined the results of 140 studies on the topic and found that female board representation was positively related to accounting returns – but not market performance – and that the relationship was stronger in countries with vigorous shareholder protection."The report comes at a time when the UK government is preparing to put further pressure on companies to increase female representation in top-level managerial posts. Earlier this year, it was revealed that 23.5 per cent of board positions in FTSE 100 companies were now occupied by women, close to the target of a quarter set by Lord Mervyn Davies in his report to the government in 2011.However, although all FTSE 100 firms have at least one female director, women still only make up 8.6 per cent of executive directorships, with the figures showing a lag in women running companies, rather than overseeing them as non-executives."I liken the debate around board diversity to that of renewable energy," said Ms Lagerberg. "We know it's the right thing to do – both in terms of fairness and for sustainable future growth – but collectively society is dragging its heels. The response to both issues seems to be: 'Yes, we need to take action, but it will be expensive to implement in the short-term,' so we kick the can down the road."But the message from our research is clear: there is a large opportunity cost for companies associated with male-only executive boards. Those businesses stuck in the past are not fully unlocking their growth potential. Like a world still addicted to fossil fuels, these companies are suffering now. A lack of action now will make it all the more difficult to respond in the future when both problems are likely to be more acute."For more news and features like this, see Re:locate's Human Resources and Leadership and Management sections.