The January 17, 2022 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek featured “The Year Ahead, 2022.” It seemed a few weeks late for such an ambitious undertaking, but I enjoyed his examination of the many open issues in our economy.
The last major section of the magazine was devoted to “50 companies to watch”. The choices were based on anticipated stock price movements, either up or down.
There were many foreign companies from Abrdn (formerly Standard Life Aberdeen) to Willis Towers Watson. Similarly, there were very familiar businesses from Airbnb, Alphabet (Google), Coca-Cola, Netflix to Volkswagen.
Six pieces of information with accompanying text about each company. I understood the reason for most of the information — Market capitalization, 3-year annualized total return, 12 months of sales, and sales growth rate in 2020.
However, why did Businessweek publish the percentage of women on the board and the gender of the CEO? Why not the number of employees, the median salary or other indicators of the reality of the company? The questions did not stop there.
Is the gender composition of the Board of Directors and that of the Chief Executive Officer now an investment factor? Will the speed at which General Motors moves to an electric fleet be influenced by having a female CEO and a 54.5% female board of directors? Was the extraordinary 3-year total return (93%) of the Australian group Fortescue Metals the consequence of the fact that a female CEO worked with a board of directors composed of 44.4% women?
Are we to believe that an 85.7% female board and a male CEO led to a 27.9% drop in Victoria’s Secret sales in 2020? Or was this setback caused by the COVID pandemic?
Does the presence or absence of women on the board of directors of a contemporary company make a difference in the fortunes of a company? According to a 2017 review of the evidence by Katherine Klein, professor of management at the Wharton School,
“Having more women on the board doesn’t make a company’s performance much better or worse.”
However, there are many dimensions of performance beyond standard accounting statements. If women, or other excluded groups, offer a diversity of experiences, attitudes and judgments, the effects could be seen in corporate lobbying behavior, charitable giving, employee recruitment and retention. .
Studies on recent corporate behavior in the face of the COVID pandemic have yet to be released. Were the feminized boards of directors more attentive to the health and family concerns of the employees? Did this advice make any temporary or permanent policy changes to address these concerns?
It is likely that the women selected for the boards of directors are not very different from the men who already sit on these boards. Therefore, we would not expect any noticeable changes in the company’s metrics. But that’s no reason to limit women’s ability to join the club or use the executive spittoon.