Beyond the Numbers: Substantive Gender Diversity in Boardrooms

59 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2018 Last revised: 16 Mar 2019

See all articles by Yaron Nili

Yaron Nili

Duke University - Duke University School of Law; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Date Written: October 20, 2017


The push for gender diversity on public companies' boards has been gaining traction. Advocacy groups, institutional investors, regulators and companies themselves have all recognized the need for more diverse boards. However, gender parity is still absent from most public companies' boards, and a significant number of companies still have no women on their boards.

Current public and academic discourse has focused on the number of women serving on the board and their percentage compared to men as the litmus test for gender diversity. However, academic studies and the public push for more diversity have mostly failed to account for another important measure of board gender diversity - the actual role and clout that female directors have within the boardroom. This is what the Article terms as substantive gender diversity.

Substantive gender diversity matters. It is at the core of both the social cause and the business case for gender diversity on boards. This Article explores this substantive component of board gender diversity through empirical data relating to the role that men and women play on corporate boards. The Article finds statistically significant differences between the roles of female and male directors. Building on these findings, the Article asserts that regulators, investors and companies must focus not only on increasing the number of women on boards but also on ensuring that female directors enjoy similar parity once elected. The Article then proposes a shift towards a Substantive Gender Diversity Disclosure regime, which would measure and report the substantive aspect of gender diversity in boardrooms.

Keywords: Gender Diversity, Board Composition, Board of Directors, Corporate Governance, Corporate Law, Securities Law

JEL Classification: K22

Suggested Citation

Nili, Yaron, Beyond the Numbers: Substantive Gender Diversity in Boardrooms (October 20, 2017). 94 Ind. L. J. 145 (2019), Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1436, Available at SSRN: or

Yaron Nili (Contact Author)

Duke University - Duke University School of Law ( email )

LSRC Building
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

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