Can Shareholder Activism Improve Gender Diversity on Corporate Boards?

37 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2014

See all articles by Christine I. Wiedman

Christine I. Wiedman

University of Waterloo

Carol A. Marquardt

City University of New York (CUNY) – Baruch College

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 1, 2014


We empirically examine the antecedents of shareholder activism related to increasing the gender diversity of corporate boards of directors (BOD) and whether such activism is an effective mechanism for achieving this goal. Because both ethical and economic considerations may drive campaigns for increased gender diversity, we condition our analysis on activists’ motivations for achieving their objectives. Based on a sample of S&P 1500 firms over 1997-2011, we find that female board representation and board independence are negatively associated the likelihood of being targeted by a shareholder proposal related to gender diversity while firm size and profitability are positively associated. We further document that financially-motivated activists are more likely to target firms with extremely low female board representation than are socially-motivated activists. Targeted firms significantly increase their female board representation in the two-year period following proposal initiation, relative to that of a matched sample of non-targeted firms, with no differences observed across activist motivations. We conclude that shareholder proposals are an effective means of improving the gender diversity of corporate BODs in U.S. firms.

Keywords: activism, diversity, governance

JEL Classification: G3

Suggested Citation

Wiedman, Christine I. and Marquardt, Carol, Can Shareholder Activism Improve Gender Diversity on Corporate Boards? (December 1, 2014). 2015 Canadian Academic Accounting Association (CAAA) Annual Conference. Available at SSRN: or

Carol Marquardt

City University of New York (CUNY) – Baruch College ( email )

One Bernard Baruch Way, Box B12-225
New York, NY 10010
United States
646-312-3241 (Phone)

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