How Girls on Boards Navigate the “Heat-Competence” Line

The highway to gender parity on company boards has been a protracted one, however there are indicators of progress. In 2022, for example, 45% of recent Fortune 500 board appointees have been ladies and the share of girls on these boards had risen to virtually 30%.

But, the purpose of being a director isn’t merely to be within the room. To efficiently advise prime administration groups on key selections and avenues for strategic change, whereas guaranteeing broad institutional oversight, ladies board administrators should exert vital affect throughout board discussions. Provided that gender-based boundaries persist, how do ladies administrators navigate these board discussions to in the end form their outcomes?

Our analysis delves into this query. In whole, we interviewed 43 present ladies administrators of U.S. publicly traded firms between 2018 and 2019. Our findings point out that until these ladies monitored how and after they spoke, they perceived backlash from different administrators. This backlash included being labeled as chilly or incompetent, which lessened their capacity to affect board decision-making processes. The foundation trigger of those perceptions is that ladies are anticipated to display each stereotypical masculine traits, reminiscent of directness and competence, whereas additionally presenting female qualities, together with heat and empathy towards others.

Strolling a effective line between expressing competence and heat on company boards offered distinctive challenges for the ladies we interviewed. In contrast to working within an organization, boards meet sometimes, all selections are excessive stakes, and the breadth of information wanted to advise on the board stage supersede one particular person’s stage of experience. This context required our members to interact in particular participation techniques to optimally navigate gender-based expectations.

Our evaluation of interview transcripts recognized six techniques that have been significantly necessary: asking, connecting, asserting, qualifying, ready, and checking. When our members matched these techniques with their particular goals, they perceived higher effectiveness and fewer backlash. Although implementing these techniques allowed our members to fulfill their targets as administrators, strolling a effective line didn’t come with out a value.

The Six Participation Ways on Boards

Under is a top level view of every tactic, how and when administrators say they use it, the place it falls on the warmth-competence line, and its advantages and disadvantages.


Asking entails voicing concepts within the type of questions and/or utilizing a well mannered or gentle tone to current concepts or categorical opposing views. One participant shared why the asking tactic works for her: “It’s not [that] I problem them. I simply ask them … what can be the draw back of that? … Is there one other risk? Or, what about if we did this? I at all times attempt to come from a optimistic facet and simply ask for extra data…. Even when they [have] a robust character, they’re often okay to inform you extra data. [Because] it’s not such as you’re disagreeing with them.”


Connecting consists of attending to know different board members by strategically creating bonds and sharing details about their nonwork or private life. For instance, one participant talked about how they get to “know issues about individuals” by social interplay, together with “the place they prefer to journey” and “if they’ve youngsters.” One other participant shared that connecting helped her disagree, “There’s a have to construct these [relationships] so then you definately might be candid and trustworthy with one another” and have “the flexibility to agree and disagree … and really feel snug in bringing candid discussions [forward].”

Each of those techniques fall on the “heat” facet of the warmth-competence line. They have been usually utilized by our members to diversify conversations on boards, permitting the ladies to disagree with the present route of the dialog with out being perceived as being unpleasant. Our members might collect extra data and really feel snug to make one of the best choice with out violating expectations for his or her gender. Nevertheless, our members additionally needed to beat across the bush to get their issues heard and constructing relationships takes time, which is a scarce useful resource for board members.


Asserting refers to expressing opinions and ideas immediately or strongly and with confidence. One participant mentioned how she shared data in one among her areas of experience (branding): “I’d not maintain again and share what I feel.” One other participant argued, “[Women] ought to … pipe up on [their expertise]. … They need to really feel very assured to talk their thoughts.”


Qualifying is publicly acknowledging experience and/or buying enough abilities, data, and credentials to execute their director function. For instance, ladies would confer with their government roles when making arguments, like, “I used to be a chief threat officer. … I’m not apprehensive about this [topic].”

Asserting and qualifying fall on the “competence” facet of the warmth-competence line and served to amplify ladies’s experience on particular subjects. “I simply used my data … so as to add some extra taste to my story,” one participant advised us, referring to the attitude she was sharing with the board. “It’s laborious to argue with widespread sense in the event you might current the widespread sense in a compelling approach.” She additionally shared that that is significantly mandatory when coping with her male friends. “I feel that is true normally coping with males…the very last thing that’s going to attraction to them is an emotional, ethical [argument], they simply shut down whenever you go that approach. … I feel you need to be way more goal and way more rational.”

The advantage of this strategy consists of ladies administrators boosting their experience and exerting affect. The draw back is they’re restricted to utilizing these techniques of their areas of experience. Once they used these techniques in different areas or subjects, they have been extra prone to understand backlash. Moreover, asserting might come throughout as impolite and thoughtless, and qualifying might sign a insecurity.


Ready is delaying expression of views by listening and observing the surroundings earlier than talking. One participant shared, “I like to attend to pay attention and listen to others’ opinions and draw out others’ opinions. I do know I could be a judgmental particular person, so I attempt to maintain off from making judgments too quickly and take heed to my different board members.”


Checking entails conferring with different administrators exterior of a board assembly — throughout breaks and casual gatherings, and thru offline communication, sidebars, and backchannels. “On the dinners I’d catch them and say, hey you talked about [something] on the board assembly,” one participant shared. “Might you assist me recognize your level?”

These closing two techniques fall in the midst of the warmth-competence line; hybrids of types to navigate opposing gender-based expectations concurrently. They’re additionally oblique and delicate, with the ladies board members discretely and privately addressing problems with concern or questions. As an illustration, quite than stopping the assembly to make clear acronyms, one girl shared that she would “scribble a be aware to your fellow board member and say, ‘What on earth does ABC imply?’ Or, a bit sidebar, and say, ‘Who’s this man? I feel I do know him, however I don’t bear in mind his identify’… it’s useful to have someone subsequent to you who’s not judging and completely happy to do some stuff like that.”

The advantage of these techniques is that ladies administrators can acquire data of a board’s decision-making norms when its tradition isn’t very inclusive, or when new board members didn’t obtain an orientation. The draw back, nonetheless, is that these techniques take time and will impede ladies administrators from expressing their views within the second. Moreover, use of those techniques could also be related to perceptions of decrease confidence or competence for ready, or as politicking for checking.

Implications for Diversifying Boards

Whereas lots of the ladies we interviewed achieved success of their function as a board director, a troubling end result of our work is that they have to nonetheless adapt to gendered expectations. This actuality has a number of implications. It’d gasoline ladies’s resistance to taking over advisory positions and assist clarify the disproportionate ranges of burnout ladies leaders expertise from having to always monitor their habits. It additionally would possibly contribute to increased turnover amongst ladies in advisory positions, which might sign ladies “opting-out” of management alternatives and, in flip, perpetuate gender stereotypes, reproduce gender inequality on boards, and produce potential blind spots in institutional governance and oversight.

The truth that ladies needed to nonetheless fear about strolling the warmth-competence effective line even after ascending above the glass ceiling means that the character of company boards makes it uniquely difficult to navigate the double bind and reduce backlash. The restricted time in board conferences and the requirement to have a broad data base appears to extend the challenges ladies face as a numerical minority on boards.

However given the benefits of numerous views and experiences, the participation of girls on boards ought to stay a precedence for firms. To assist accomplish this, we advocate the next methods for firms.

Take a holistic strategy to board appointments.

The choice standards for board administrators typically excludes certified ladies. Administrators are usually present or former CEOs, or individuals who have years of expertise on the government stage, which might exclude ladies given the management gaps that persist within firms. Additional, analysis suggests ladies’s presence on boards depends upon firm visibility quite than ladies’s precise skills and experience.

As an alternative of specializing in these two elements, nominating governance committees ought to take a holistic strategy and take into consideration the abilities they want on their board along with the roles potential administrators might need. As a result of there’s a scarcity of girls with CEO expertise, firms would do properly by broadening their standards to think about capacity and experience that falls exterior of the CEO title.

Widen the appropriate vary for a way people take part on boards.

Our findings recommend organizations can guarantee the complete participation of all their administrators by contemplating boardroom tradition and participation. Are new members inspired to talk at their first assembly on the board? Is everybody’s vote weighed equally? How open is the board chair to airing dissenting opinions? Are selections taken within the board room or on the golf course? With out asking these questions, firms that enhance the variety of ladies administrators, however don’t change their shared assumptions of tips on how to take part, will find yourself with seasoned ladies who don’t take part totally within the boardroom. A higher acceptance for the alternative ways people categorical themselves may help organizations leverage minority views and encourage the optimistic advantages of variety in decision-making and governance.

Develop clear onboarding processes.

Provided that boards meet sometimes to debate extremely delicate and high-risk firm selections, a structured onboarding course of will assist put together new administrators to imagine their roles. Our analysis means that present onboarding processes, when there have been formal ones, centered solely across the companies and merchandise the corporate provided. Onboarding that explains the board tradition and expectations might additionally assist administrators know the way and when to contribute, which establishes the worth they bring about to the board from the beginning. Understanding participation norms will likely be significantly useful for historically underrepresented administrators to realize credibility and nominations to serve on extra boards. Board members that serve on a couple of board have extra avenues for data and knowledge that may grow to be sources to assist enhance the focal group’s efficiency.

Facilitate assist and connections.

Girls administrators shouldn’t have to navigate boardroom dynamics alone. Allies can amplify ladies administrators’ voice or actively solicit their enter on issues. Board chairs are additionally properly positioned to supply suggestions and impart classes on tips on how to affect particular board members. These chairs may also think about higher integrating ladies administrators into their very own social networks, encouraging them to attend industry-wide conferences to extend their visibility, and/or be a part of associations that facilitate connections with potential different allies.

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Gender-based boundaries stay at play within the boardroom, creating extra work for ladies administrators who should stroll the effective line between displaying heat and competence. Our analysis reveals that it’s as much as every firm and their board members to ease the burden on how ladies administrators take part and affect board selections. That approach, we are able to transfer one step nearer to gender parity in company governance.

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