By Jim Plouffe
For every additional woman appointed to a corporate board, the company experienced an average 1.5% reduction in litigation risk, said study author Dr Chelsea Liu, a senior lecturer at the university’s Adelaide Business School.
“The average cost of an environmental lawsuit is estimated to be 2.26% of a company’s market value, which translates into a dollar value of US$204.3 million based on the current average market capitalisation of the S&P1500 firms in my sample,” Liu said.
“This means that reducing the litigation risk by 1.5% (by appointing a female director) would be the equivalent of saving US$3.1 million.”
Her findings should sound alarm bells for major corporations — during the same time period Liu’s research was published, accounting firm EY found that only 16% of S&P 1500 board seats are held by women.
Liu also found that female chief executives and female directors have complementary roles in a boardroom.
“Female directors make a bigger difference in reducing environmental lawsuits in companies run by male chief executives, compared with those companies that have female chief executives,” she said.
Conversely, when Lui divided the firms into two groups with higher versus lower levels of female board representation, she found that a female chief executive only makes any difference to environmental lawsuit risk when the board is male-dominated.
“Gender diversity is what’s important — female representation on boards is most important where the CEO is male, and less important if the CEO is female,” Liu said.
Liu said the explanation for the findings lies in gender socialisation and diversity theories.
“This can be attributed to ‘diversity theory’, which says that a group of people from more diverse backgrounds — gender, race, etc. — tend to make better collective decisions because they canvas a wider range of perspectives.
“Having a range of perspectives can result in improved corporate environmental policy, which in turn can reduce exposure to environmental lawsuits,” she said.
“Gender socialisation and ethics theories suggest that girls are brought up to be more caring towards others which can enhance environmental decision-making in the boardroom.
“Previous research also found that female executives are less overconfident and more willing to seek expert advice than their male counterparts.”
Liu, however, warned that having more women than men on the board is not always better.
“If the proportion of female directors exceeds half, then any additional women appointed will reduce gender diversity. Given that diversity is key to good decision-making, maintaining a balance of men and women on the board is important,” she said.
Liu said the research provides a business case for increasing corporate gender diversity.
“With corporate environmental responsibility becoming a more important social issue, these findings can have significant implications for policymakers, investors and managers,” Liu said.
“Environmental violations not only have a significant impact on societies, but they can also cause devastating losses of shareholder value.”