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

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

Gender parity on boards is showing indicators of improvement. However having a seat at the desk is factual the principal step; exerting impression around excessive-stakes selections is needed, too. To better realize how females board members attain this, researchers interviewed 43 females administrators at U.S. companies. They realized that these females had to navigate a vivid line of showing each and each warmth and competent to rep their opinions across, and did so the spend of six key techniques: asking, connecting, asserting, qualifying, waiting, and checking. The researchers moreover stamp that it could perchance aloof no longer simply be as a lot as females administrators to navigate bias in opposition to them, and suggest four concepts for companies taking a requirement to reinforce gender parity on their boards — no longer easiest in quantity, nonetheless in impression.

The road to gender parity on corporate boards has been a prolonged one, nonetheless there are indicators of growth. In 2022, as an illustration, 45% of contemporary Fortune 500 board appointees had been females and the share of females on these boards had risen to practically 30%.

Yet, the point of being a director is no longer simply to be within the room. To efficiently advise high management teams on key selections and avenues for strategic trade, whereas making sure mammoth institutional oversight, females board administrators must exert necessary impression throughout board discussions. Provided that gender-basically basically based utterly limitations persist, how attain females administrators navigate these board discussions to within the slay shape their outcomes?

Our analysis delves into this anticipate. In total, we interviewed 43 aloof females administrators of U.S. publicly traded companies between 2018 and 2019. Our findings stamp that except these females monitored how and when they spoke, they perceived backlash from diversified administrators. This backlash incorporated being labeled as cool or incompetent, which lessened their potential to impress board determination-making processes. The root motive within the lend a hand of these perceptions is that females are expected to advise each and each stereotypical masculine traits, such as directness and competence, whereas moreover presenting feminine qualities, in conjunction with warmth and empathy towards others.

Walking a vivid line between expressing competence and warmth on corporate boards equipped peculiar challenges for the females we interviewed. Unlike working interior of a firm, boards meet occasionally, all selections are excessive stakes, and the breadth of recordsdata desired to advise at the board level supersede one particular person’s level of abilities. This context required our members to raise in teach participation techniques to optimally navigate gender-basically basically based utterly expectations.

Our analysis of interview transcripts known six techniques that had been namely well-known: asking, connecting, asserting, qualifying, waiting, and checking. When our members matched these techniques with their teach objectives, they perceived bigger effectiveness and no more backlash. Despite the reality that imposing these techniques allowed our members to fulfill their needs as administrators, strolling a vivid line didn’t attain with out a payment.

The Six Participation Ways on Boards

Below is an define of every tactic, how and when administrators mutter they spend it, where it falls on the warmth-competence line, and its advantages and disadvantages.


Asking involves voicing concepts within the produce of questions and/or the spend of a polite or tender tone to point concepts or teach opposing views. One participant shared why the asking tactic works for her: “It’s no longer [that] I scenario them. I factual anticipate them … what could be the scheme back of that? … Is there one other chance? Or, what about if we did this? I continuously strive and attain from a obvious facet and factual anticipate for more recordsdata…. Despite the reality that they [have] a stable persona, they’re in most cases k to advise you more recordsdata. [Because] it’s no longer such as you’re disagreeing with them.”


Connecting includes getting to understand diversified board members by strategically constructing bonds and sharing recordsdata about their nonwork or private life. As an illustration, one participant talked about how they rep to “know issues about folks” via social interaction, in conjunction with “where they cherish to shuttle” and “if they’ve children.” Yet every other participant shared that connecting helped her disagree, “There’s a must build these [relationships] so then you definately could moreover moreover be candid and honest with every diversified” and contain “the flexibility to agree and disagree … and feel jubilant in bringing candid discussions [forward].”

Both of these techniques fall on the “warmth” facet of the warmth-competence line. They had been veritably outdated by our members to diversify conversations on boards, allowing the females to disagree with the aloof route of the conversation with out being perceived as being deplorable. Our members could accumulate more recordsdata and feel jubilant to execute the absolute most realistic determination with out violating expectations for their gender. However, our members moreover had to beat around the bush to rep their concerns heard and building relationships takes time, which is a scarce handy resource for board members.


Declaring refers to expressing opinions and concepts without extend or strongly and with self assurance. One participant discussed how she shared recordsdata in a single amongst her areas of abilities (branding): “I’d no longer protect lend a hand and fragment what I mediate.” Yet every other participant argued, “[Women] should aloof … pipe up on [their expertise]. … They should aloof feel very confident to focus on their concepts.”


Qualifying is publicly acknowledging abilities and/or acquiring ample talents, recordsdata, and credentials to enact their director feature. As an illustration, females would consult with their govt roles when making arguments, cherish, “I became a chief chance officer. … I’m no longer insecure about this [topic].”

Declaring and qualifying fall on the “competence” facet of the warmth-competence line and served to amplify females’s abilities on teach subject matters. “I factual outdated my recordsdata … to add some more flavor to my story,” one participant urged us, relating to the perspective she became sharing with the board. “It’s laborious to argue with general sense whenever possibilities are you’ll maybe indicate the overall sense in a compelling design.” She moreover shared that this is namely needed when facing her male friends. “I mediate this is acceptable veritably facing males…the final part that’s going to allure to them is an emotional, lawful [argument], they factual shut down whenever you dart that design. … I mediate strive and be design more scheme and design more rational.”

The profit of this kind includes females administrators boosting their abilities and exerting impression. The scheme back is that they are dinky to the spend of these techniques in their areas of abilities. Once they outdated these techniques in diversified areas or subject matters, they had been more likely to peep backlash. Additionally, asserting could stumble upon as grievous and thoughtless, and qualifying could signal a lack of self assurance.


Waiting is delaying expression of views via listening and gazing the atmosphere prior to talking. One participant shared, “I cherish to lend a hand to hear and listen to others’ opinions and scheme out others’ opinions. I do know I could moreover moreover be a judgmental particular person, so I strive and protect off from making judgments too rapidly and listen to to my diversified board members.”


Checking involves conferring with diversified administrators exterior of a board meeting — throughout breaks and informal gatherings, and via offline conversation, sidebars, and backchannels. “On the dinners I’d take them and mutter, hey you mentioned [something] at the board meeting,” one participant shared. “Would possibly maybe perchance well maybe you reduction me cherish your point?”

These final two techniques fall within the course of the warmth-competence line; hybrids of varieties to navigate opposing gender-basically basically based utterly expectations simultaneously. They’re moreover oblique and delicate, with the females board members discretely and privately addressing complications with scenario or questions. As an illustration, as a substitute of stopping the meeting to justify acronyms, one lady shared that she would “scribble a stamp to your fellow board member and mutter, ‘What on earth does ABC imply?’ Or, fairly sidebar, and mutter, ‘Who’s this man? I mediate I do know him, nonetheless I don’t take into accout his title’… it’s handy to contain any individual next to you who’s no longer judging and jubilant to realize some stuff cherish that.”

The profit of these techniques is that females administrators can produce recordsdata of a board’s determination-making norms when its culture isn’t very inclusive, or when contemporary board members didn’t receive an orientation. The scheme back, nevertheless, is that these techniques remove time and could fair hinder females administrators from expressing their views within the moment. Additionally, spend of these techniques will likely be linked to perceptions of decrease self assurance or competence for waiting, or as politicking for checking.

Implications for Diversifying Boards

While plenty of the females we interviewed carried out success in their feature as a board director, a troubling of our work is that they deserve to aloof adapt to gendered expectations. This reality has so a lot of implications. It could gasoline females’s resistance to taking up advisory positions and reduction indicate the disproportionate stages of burnout females leaders abilities from having to continuously show screen their behavior. It moreover could make contributions to bigger turnover amongst females in advisory positions, which could perchance maybe signal females “opting-out” of management opportunities and, in turn, perpetuate gender stereotypes, reproduce gender inequality on boards, and establish attainable blind spots in institutional governance and oversight.

The reality that females had to aloof difficulty about strolling the warmth-competence vivid line even after ascending above the glass ceiling means that the persona of corporate boards makes it uniquely hard to navigate the double bind and decrease backlash. The dinky time in board meetings and the requirement to contain a mammoth recordsdata infamous seems to amplify the challenges females face as a numerical minority on boards.

However given the advantages of diverse perspectives and experiences, the participation of females on boards should aloof remain a precedence for companies. To aid produce this, we suggest the following concepts for companies.

Purchase a holistic formula to board appointments.

The determination criteria for board administrators veritably excludes qualified females. Directors are veritably aloof or broken-down CEOs, or folks that contain years of abilities at the govt.level, which will exclude females given the management gaps that persist interior of companies. Additional, analysis suggests females’s presence on boards depends on firm visibility as a substitute of females’s real talents and abilities.

As a substitute of focusing on these two elements, nominating governance committees should aloof remove a holistic formula and test the abilities they need on their board apart from to the roles attainable administrators could need. Because there’s a shortage of females with CEO abilities, companies would attain properly by broadening their criteria to remove into consideration potential and abilities that falls exterior of the CEO title.

Widen the acceptable vary for the formula folks remove half on boards.

Our findings suggest organizations can execute obvious the corpulent participation of all their administrators by pondering about boardroom culture and participation. Are contemporary members impressed to focus on at their first meeting on the board? Is all people’s vote weighed equally? How originate is the board chair to airing dissenting opinions? Are selections taken within the board room or on the golf route? With out asking these questions, companies that amplify the determination of females administrators, nonetheless attain no longer trade their shared assumptions of remove half, will discontinue up with seasoned females who attain no longer remove half fully within the boardroom. A bigger acceptance for the diversified ways folks teach themselves can reduction organizations leverage minority views and reduction the obvious advantages of diversity in determination-making and governance.

Create obvious onboarding processes.

Provided that boards meet occasionally to focus on about highly restful and excessive-chance firm selections, a structured onboarding route of will reduction prepare contemporary administrators to remove their roles. Our analysis means that aloof onboarding processes, when there contain been formal ones, centered easiest around the products and services and products the firm equipped. Onboarding that explains the board culture and expectations could moreover reduction administrators know how and when to make contributions, which establishes the worth they create to the board from the initiating. Knowing participation norms will likely be namely handy for historically underrepresented administrators to produce credibility and nominations to lend a hand on extra boards. Board members that lend a hand on more than one board contain extra avenues for recordsdata and records that will turn out to be sources to reduction strengthen the focal group’s efficiency.

Facilitate beef up and connections.

Females administrators attain no longer must navigate boardroom dynamics alone. Allies can amplify females administrators’ direct or actively solicit their enter on matters. Board chairs are moreover properly positioned to supply feedback and command lessons on impression teach board members. These chairs could moreover remove into consideration better integrating females administrators into their possess social networks, encouraging them to lend a hand industry-huge conferences to amplify their visibility, and/or be half of associations that facilitate connections with attainable diversified allies.

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Gender-basically basically based utterly limitations remain at play within the boardroom, constructing extra work for females administrators who must stroll the vivid line between displaying warmth and competence. Our analysis reveals that it is as a lot as every firm and their board members to ease the burden on how females administrators remove half and impression board selections. That design, we can pass one step nearer to gender parity in corporate governance.