Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

PhD in Business


Department of Management

First Advisor

Susan Adams

Second Advisor

Patricia Flynn

Third Advisor

Diana Bilimoria


An emerging literature highlights the lack of gender diversity on corporate boards, its implications, and the need for more scholarship and theoretical development on board diversity. According to this literature, to better understand the reasons behind the persistent underrepresentation of women on boards (WOB), of particular importance is the need to access boards directly for data, as opposed to focusing solely on human capital, firm, and board characteristics. This dissertation research directly accesses both male and female board directors using a qualitative interview approach and employs grounded theory techniques to investigate (a) how and why corporate boards appoint members, and (b) specifically how and why they appoint female members.

This work first explores the current status of WOB across the globe. It then presents a thorough review of the relevant literature from 2009 to date that focuses on the business case for women directors, and barriers to increasing gender diversity on corporate boards (GDOB). Findings indicate that barriers can be classified into three key categories, which are often interconnected: (a) Supply-side effects in the pipeline and human capital characteristics; (b) bias and discrimination in the form of stereotypes, the “queen bee” syndrome, and good old boy networks; and (c) institutional/cultural characteristics, including the lack of, or inadequate, mentoring. Results also suggest the complexities associated with identifying and addressing the reasons underlying the persistence of male-dominated boards. Along with the slow progress for WOB, these findings suggest that researchers may need to reevaluate current methodological approaches to investigating this problem in order to yield more effective solutions.

This dissertation research thus takes a phenomenological approach to sociology, whereby grounded theory techniques are invoked for data collection and analysis to investigate male and female directors’ experiences and explore the contributing factors behind board appointment processes. Results suggest that (a) boards find candidate directors using search firms or headhunters, and their personal or professional networks; (b) they often have a specific description of “who they look for,” but tend to appoint a director because they believe he/she will be a good “fit” with the rest of the board; (c) boards appoint female directors for strategic and sociopolitical reasons; (d) women’s contributions are important and different than men’s; and (e) boards avoid appointing female members because of unconscious bias, stereotypes, “Good Ol’ Boy” networks, and the “mirror effect.” Results also reveal a paradox in that even though “the corporate world is embarrassed by how slow the progress has been [for women],” and even though directors indicate “they want to help increase gender diversity,” they still tend to appoint people who “look just like them.” This drives the persistent tendency of current directors to largely ignore female candidates and appoint their male counterparts in a process that often seems to happen subconsciously.