More women on management boards leads to changes in organisation that promote innovation, a study from BI Norwegian Business School shows.

RESEARCH @ BI: Women at the top

Over the last few years, women have been marching into board rooms in many parts of the world, and made board rooms no longer the domain of men.

Norwegian boards and management teams offer an attractive laboratory in which to study whether the female factor has actually led to changes. It’s now about five years since a law was passed in Norway regarding gender representation in management of all the country’s public limited companies (ASAs), in 2006.

Professor Morten Huse from BI Norwegian School of Management, and Mariateresa Torchia and Andrea Calabrò from the University of Rome Tor Vergata, conducted a comprehensive study in order to investigate whether an increase in the percentage of women leads to the board making changes and promoting increased innovation.

Medium-sized companies

The researchers conducted a survey of managing directors from a selection of medium-sized Norwegian enterprises (companies with between 51 and 250 employees), and received 341 complete replies.

The data were collected during the winter of 2005/2006, in order that the researchers might compare enterprises with and without female representation within management.

The enterprises included in the study had an average of 16 per cent female representation. More than four out of ten (44 per cent) enterprises surveyed had no women in management.

Organising for innovation

The researchers asked chief executives to what degree the board implemented measures to promote organisational innovation.

Those interviewed were requested to use a scale of 1-7 (7 = completely agree, 1 = completely disagree) when answering to what degree they agreed with the following statements:

  • The enterprise is the first in the business to develop innovative management systems.
  • The enterprise is the first in the business to introduce new business ideas and practice.
  • The enterprise makes comprehensive changes in organisational structure in order to promote innovation.
  • The enterprise initiates self-development programs for those employees who support creativity and innovation.

”Results show there is a significant and positive correlation between the percentage of women and the degree of organisational innovation in the enterprise,” says Morten Huse.

Thinking differently and thinking ahead

The research team also wanted to investigate possible reasons why a greater percentage of women had a positive effect on innovative thinking within the organisation.

Huse et al prove that the percentage of women paired with cognitive conflict (differences) and the degree of preparation contributes to increased organisational innovation. Differences and preparations were studied as mediating variables between the percentage of women and organisational innovation.

“A greater female presence encourages more opinions and perspectives in board discussions. The study also shows that a greater percentage of women has a positive effect on how prepared and involved board members are,” Huse claims.

Well-prepared, enthusiastic women on the board also have a positive effect on other board members. The guys need to prove that they’re also well prepared and enthusiastic.

”This creates a positive cycle where preparations and involvement in board meetings increase in general. Men’s behaviour appears to change when women join the board,” says Huse.

Better-prepared, more involved board members also affect the productivity of the board in a positive way.


Torchia, Mariateresa, Andrea Calabrò and Morten Huse: ”Påvirker kvinner i styrer bedriftens innovasjonsevne?”. Magma issue 7/2010 (in Norwegian).


Text: Audun Farbrot, Head of Science Communication at BI Norwegian Business School 



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