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Female board members better at decision-making than male directors, says study

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TORONTO - Women who sit on corporate boards are more likely to "rock the boat" and be more open to new ideas than their male counterparts — skills that often translate into better decisions and financial success for the company, according to a new study.

The survey, recently published in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics, found that of the 624 board directors polled in Canada, women were more likely to use "co-operation, collaboration and consensus building" when dealing with complex decisions.

While male directors more often made decisions by using "rules, regulations and traditional ways of doing business."

Study co-author Chris Bart said Monday that his research showed that the way women operate as directors often contributed to a company's success, raising the question of why women are still in the minority in Canada's corporate boardrooms.

"Why would governance, nominating committees and board chairs not want to have that skill set, that competence available to them in abundance?" asked Bart, a professor of strategic management at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University.

"It's no longer just a question of it being the right thing to do, to have women on the board... it's the bright thing to do."

The finds, part of a larger study conducted between 2004 and 2012, presented morally conflicting scenarios to board members, asking them to solve them and explain how they came to their conclusion. Of those surveyed, 75 per cent were male and 25 per cent were female.

Bart, who did the research with Gregory McQueen of A.T. Still University in Arizona, says the answers from female directors showed that they were "less constrained" in their problem-solving skills than male directors.

It also found that women were more likely to take into account interests of multiple stakeholders and viewed fairness as an important factor in their decision-making.

"Women seem to be predisposed to be more inquisitive and to see more possible solutions," he said. "This quality makes them more effective corporate directors."

A recent study by TD Bank (TSX:TD) found that women only make up 11 per cent of board members at companies on the S&P/TSX Composite Index, which represents more than 240 of Canada's largest companies by market capitalization.

Nearly half (43 per cent) of the companies on the index reported no female board member and 28 per cent only had one.

Bart says the reality is that the "old boys" culture is still alive and well in corporate boardrooms across all sectors.

"Men are pack animals and they are very much quick to recognize the hierarchy of the alpha males in the group," he said. "They would be very unhappy with people coming in with different values or views to the board."

Bart says the study signals that boards, investors and shareholders, all benefit when there are more female directors.

"There's a huge pool of qualified, available women who would certainly be eligible based on their experiences to fill the boardroom seats," he said.

"(Companies) drum up all sorts of excuses as to why women aren't being appointed to the board but they're no longer holding water."

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