The groupthink argument for appointing more women to boards

Followers of the ‘gender diversity in the boardroom’ debate will notice arguments waxing and waning over the years, depending on how intrinsically convincing they are, and how difficult they are to counter. At one time proponents of ‘improved’ gender balance argued for the existence of the ‘glass ceiling’, but that argument always had one major intrinsic problem. The people at the top of major companies knew that not only did the glass ceiling not exist, they’d been working hard for years to get more women into senior positions, only to find few women able and willing to take them on. And when women did take on senior positions, they often resigned a year or two afterwards – the euphemistically-named ‘retention problem’. To get business leaders on board, the ‘pipeline problem’ was invented.

Numerous propositions have been mooted in recent years to explain the ‘problem’ of the small number of women on boards. They all reliably have one thing in common. The ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ always entails special treatment for women.

An intriguing argument has been gaining ground in the past couple of years, namely that business leaders tend to appoint new directors in their own mould – often termed ‘male, pale and stale’, as a female Conservative MP wrote in a newspaper article last week. The expression manages to fit into four words sexism, racism, and ageism. The proposition is that the tendency results in ‘groupthink’ which will result in poorer corporate performance over time. Needless to say, no evidence is ever presented to back this proposition. Indeed, you can be sure feminist researchers have sought that evidence, and failed to find it. Yet the proposition is spread by taxpayer-funded bodies and reported faithfully in the media, for example an article titled, ‘Male-dominated boards will fall behind rivals, says report’, in the Daily Telegraph of 29 May 2012:

Companies with male-dominated boards will fall behind their rivals because they lack the ‘fresh’ ideas women can bring, a government report claims. Without women in senior posts, companies will lose touch with their customers and risk making ‘flawed decisions’ as a result of ‘groupthink’ by men, a report from the Department for Business said. In a separate study, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission suggested firms should appoint more women directors to help the economic recovery.

So here we have the classic problem / solution. The problem? A risk to corporate performance. The solution? Appoint more women.

The idea of women bringing ‘fresh’ ideas is an intriguing one. It’s long been a central tenet of feminist arguments – which underpin all arguments for ‘improved’ gender balance – that there’s no intrinsic difference between men’s and women’s brains which might account for differences in gender outcomes. At the same time, it is claimed that women are intellectually superior in some areas. From where this alleged superiority originates, if not the brain, I cannot imagine. In his book Why Britain Hates Men Swayne O’Pie covers this topic in a chapter with the title, ‘Jack and Jill are the same, except when Jill’s better’. The idea that male and female babies are born with no innate gendered brain wiring is known as the ‘blank slate’ theory of human nature. It’s a key left-wing article of faith, and utterly discredited among psychologists who aren’t feminist ideologues.

To my mind one of the key reasons men dominate corporate boards is the same reason that men (numerically) dominate the engineering profession (to take one example of a male-typical profession) and are rarely to be found in nursing (to take one example of a female-typical profession). Gender-typical men and women do indeed have different ways of thinking, deriving from their gender-typical brains, and the male gender-typical brain is simply better adapted for senior positions in business (or engineering) than the female gender-pattern brain.

Ironically, given the groupthink argument for having more women on boards, women are far more likely than men to engage in groupthink. You only need to witness women’s herd mentality in areas such as fashion for a clue into this reality. Further evidence is provided by women’s constant bleating over the past 30 years that women need more role models to inspire them to seek senior positions. But who will be the role models’ role models? These are sheep with the ambition to become shepherdesses.

My book The Glass Ceiling Delusion has a good deal of material on the issue of gender-typical thinking, and how it leads to the numerical gender outcomes we see all around us. My arguments are largely based upon the content of books by four eminent psychology professors, which I recommend strongly:

Susan Pinker’s The Sexual Paradox

Louanne Brizendine’s The Female Brain

Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate

Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference.

If you have the time to read only one of the titles, I’d recommend it be The Essential Difference.

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About Mike Buchanan

I'm a men's human rights advocate, writer, and publisher. My primary focus is leading the political party I launched in 2013, Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them). I still work actively on two campaigns I launched in early 2012, Campaign for Merit in Business and the Anti-Feminism League. In 2014 I launched The Alternative Sexism Project, aiming to raise public understanding that the sexism faced by men and boys has far more grievous consequences than the sexism faced by women and girls.
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