Determinants of under-representation of women on Boards of Directors: an exploratory study of African public and private firms

Open access


The underlying causes for the low representation of women on board directorships has been the subject of considerable research when viewed in the context of North American, European and Asian economies and markets. In Africa, very few studies exist that examine this reality even if the socio-economic situation increasingly requires it. Indeed, women are a pillar of the social and economic life of African countries, as they constitute the equilibrium point of family stability and contributors to various essential economic activities alongside men in their community and country. This central role of African woman in all civic endeavours stands in stark contradiction to their general absence on the Board of Directors of most African companies. Although a recent ADB study indicates that the percentage of African women on boards is higher than on some other continents’ nonetheless, the fact remains that this low representation is astonishing. This research aims to understand the cause and effect relationship and to identify the determinants of this low representation of women as sitting board members. It is based on semi-structured interviews with women who are voting members on existing Boards of Directors of large firms in the public and private sectors. It shows that the low representation of women in boardrooms is explained more by socio-cultural factors rather than any organizational flaws or personal issues with these women.

Adams, R. B. (2016). Women on boards: the superheroes of tomorrow? (Finance Working Paper No. 466, p. 1-55).

Adams, R. B., & Ferreira, D. (2007). A theory of friendly boards. Journal of Finance, 62, 217-250.

Adams, R. B., & Ferreira, D. (2009). Women in the boardroom and their impact on governance and performance. Journal of Financial Economics, 94, 291-309.

Adams, R. B., Haan, J., Terjesen, S., & van Ees, H. (2015). Board diversity: moving the field forward. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 23(2), 77-82.

African Development Bank. (2015). Where are the women. Abidjan: African Development Bank Press.

Austin, J. E. (1990). Managing in developing countries: strategic analysis and operating techniques. New York: Free Press.

Boivie, S., Bednar, M., Aguilera, R., & Andrus, J. (2016). Are boards designed to fail? The implausibility of effective board monitoring. The Academy of Management Annals, 10(1), 319-407.

Bourgoin, H. (1984). L’Afrique malade du management. Paris, Jean Picollec.

Brammer, S, Millington, A, & Pavelin, S. (2007). Gender and ethnic diversity among UK corporate boards. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 15, 393-403. doi:

Burgess, Z., & Tharenou, P. (2002). Women board directors: characteristics of the few. Journal of Business Ethics, 37, 39-49.

Burke, R. J. (2003). Women on corporate boards of directors: the timing is right, Journal of Women in Management Review, 18(7), 346-348.

Cabrera-Fernandez, A. I., Martinez-Jimeniz, R., & Hernandez-Ortiz, M. J. (2016).

Women’s participation on boards of directors: a review of the literature. International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, 8, 1-22.

Campbell, K., & Minguez-Vera, A. (2008). Gender diversity in the boardroom and firm financial performance. Journal of Business Ethics, 83, 435-451.

Carter, D. A., Souza, F. D., Simkins, B. J., & Simpson, W. G. (2010). The gender and ethnic diversity of US boards and board committees and firm financial performance. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 18, 396-414. doi:

Catalyst. (2011). The bottom line: corporate performance and women’s representation on boards (2004‐2008). Retrieved from:

Catalyst. (2015). Women in S&P 500 companies. Retrieved from:

Claringbould, I., & Knoppers, A. (2007). Finding a ‘normal’ woman: selection processes for board membership, Sex Roles, 56, 495-507.

Compaore, P. N. (2000). Femmes, developpement et transfert de technologies: le cas des presses a karite au Burkina Faso. These de doctorat en sociologie. Montreal, Universite de Montreal.

Daily, C. M., Certo, S. T., & Dalton, D. R. (1999). A decade of corporate women: some progress in the boardroom, none in the executive suite. Strategic Management Journal, 20(1), 93-99.

Darmadi, S. (2013). Board members’ education and firm performance: evidence from a developing economy. International Journal of Commerce and Management, 23(2), 113-135.

Davidson, M.J., & Burke, R. J. (2000). Women in management: current research issues vol. 2, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Desrosiers, M., & Lepine, I. (1991). La place des femmes dans la gestion: perspectives de recherche, In I. Lepine, & C. Simard, Prendre sa place dans l’univers organisationnel (3-52). Ottava, Editions Agence d’Arc.

Dillard, J., & Reynolds, M. A. (2008). Green owl and the corn maiden. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 28(4), 556-579.

European Union. (2016). Gender diversity on European boards. Annual report, Brussels.

Farrell, K. A., & Hersch, P. L. (2005). Additions to corporate boards: the effect of gender. Journal of Corporate Finance, 11, 85-106. doi:

Ferguson, K. (1984). The feminist case against bureaucracy. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Temple, University Press.

Finkelstein, S., Hambrick, D. C., & Cannella, A. A., Jr. 2009. Strategic leadership: theory and research on executives, top management teams and boards. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fondas, N., & Sassalos, S. (2000). A different voice in the boardroom: how the presence of women directors affects board influence over management. Global Focus, 12, 13-22.

Galbreath, J. (2011). Are there gender-related influences on corporate sustainability? A study of women on boards of directors. Journal of Management and Organization, 17, 17-38.

Garba, T., & Abubakar, B. A. (2014 February). Corporate board diversity and financial performance of insurance companies in Nigeria: an application of panel data approach, Asian Economic and Financial Review, 4(2), 257-277.

Gidengil, E., & Vengroff, R. (1997 Fall). Representative bureaucracy, tokenism and the glass ceiling: the case of women in Quebec municipal administration, Canadian Public Administration/Administration publique du Canada, 40(3), 457-480.

Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice psychological theory and women development, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

Guy, M. E. (1994 Spring). Organizational architecture, gender and women’s careers. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 14(2), 77-90.

Harel-Giasson, F. (1993 novembre). Sans les habiletes politiques, point de salut!. Revue Gestion, 130-139.

Harjoto, M., Laksmana, I., & Lee, R. (2015). Board diversity and corporate social responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics, 132, 641-660.

Hillman, J. A. (2015). Board diversity: beginning to unpeel the onion. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 23(2), 104-107.

Huse, M., & Solberg, A. G. (2006). Gender-related boardroom, dynamics: how Scandinavian women make and can make contributions on corporate boards. Women in Management Review, 21(2), 113-130.

Jackson S. E., Joshi, A., & Erhardt, N. L. (2003). Recent research on team and organizational diversity: SWOT analysis and implications. Journal of Management 29(6), 801-830. doi:

Jackson, S. E., May, K. E., & Whitney, K. (1995). Understanding the dynamics of diversity in decision-making teams. Team Effectiveness and Decision Making in Organizations, 204, 261.

Joy, L. (2008 July). Advancing women leaders: the connection between women board directors and women corporate officers. Catalyst Research Reports.

Kamdem, E., & Ikelle, R. (2011). Management de la diversite et genre au Cameroun: une approche en termes d’accompagnement de l’entrepreneuriat feminin. Humanisme et Entreprise, 305, 49-64.

Kanter, R. M. (1977). Men and women of the corporation. New York: Basic Books.

Kessy, M. Z. (1998). Culture africaine et gestion de l’entreprise moderne. Abidjan: CEDA Editions.

Khanna, P., Jones, C. D., & Boivie, S. (2014). Director human capital, information processing demands, and board effectiveness. Journal of Management, 40(2), 557-585.

Knockaert, M., Bjornali, E. S., & Erickson, T. (2015). Joining forces: top management team and board chair characteristics as antecedents of board service involvement. Journal of Business Venturing, 30(3), 420-435.

Letza, S. (2017). Corporate governance and the African business context: the case of Nigeria. Economics and Business Review, 3(17), No. 1, 2017, 184-204.

Lortie-Lussier, M., & Rinfret, N. (2002 Winter). The proportion of women managers: where is the critical mass?. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32(9), 1974-1991.

Lyness, K. S., & Thompson, D. E. (2000). Climbing the corporate ladder: do female and male executives follow the same route. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(1), 86-101.

Machold, S., Ahmed, P. K., & Farquhar, S. S. (2008). Corporate governance and ethics: a feminist perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 81, 665-678.

Maineiro, L. A. (1994 Spring). On breaking the glass ceiling: the political seasoning of powerful women executives. Organizational Dynamics, 22(4), 5-20.

McKinsey. (2016). Women matter Africa. Pretoria, Annual Report.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: an expanded source book (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Miller, T, & Triana, M. C. (2009). Demographic diversity in the boardroom: mediators of the board diversity-firm performance relationship. Journal of Management Studies, 46, 755-786. doi:

Milliken, F., & Martins, L. (1996). Searching for common threads: understanding the multiple effects of diversity in organizational groups. Academy of Management Review, 21, 402-433.

Moore, L. L. (1986). Not as fare as you think. The realities of working women, Toronto: Lexington Books.

Ouedraogo, A. (2003). Alliances strategiques dans les pays en developpement, specificite, management et conditions de performance. These de doctorat (Ph.D.) en sciences de gestion, Montreal: HEC Montreal.

Pande, R., & Ford, D. (2011). Gender quotas and female leadership: a review. World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development.

Post, C., & Byron, K. (2014). Women on boards and firm financial performance: a meta-analysis. Academy of Management Journal, 58(5), 1546-1571. doi:

Roberts, J., McNulty, T., & Stiles, P. (2005). Beyond agency conceptions of the work of the non-executive director: creating accountability in the boardroom, British Journal of Management, 16, 1-22.

Rose, C. (2007). Does female board representation influence firm performance the Danish evidence. Corporate Governance, 15(2), 404-413. doi:

Rouamba, L. (2011). La participation des femmes a la vie publique au Burkina Faso (1957-2009). These de doctorat en sociologie, Montreal, Universite du Quebec a Montreal.

Rouamba, L., & Descarries, F. (2010). Les femmes dans le pouvoir executif au Burkina Faso (1957-2009). Recherches Feministes, 23(1), 99-122.

Seierstad, C., & Kirton, G. (2015). Having it all? Women in high commitment careers and work-life balance in Norway. Gender, Work and Organization, 22(4), 393-404.

Shafique, Y., Idress, S., & Yousaf, H. 2014. Impact of boards’ gender diversity on firms’ profitability: evidence from banking sector of Pakistan. European Journal of Business and Management, 6, 296-307.

Simard, C., & Tarrab, G. (1986). Une gestion au feminin?, Nouvelles realites. Boucherville: Editions C. Vermette.

Smith, N., Smith V., & Verner, M. (2006). Do women in top management affect firm performance?. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 55(7), 569-593.

St-Onge, S., & Magnan, M. (2013). Les femmes au sein des conseils d’administration: bilan des connaissances et voies de recherche future. Revue Finance, Controle et Strategie, 16(1), 2-25.

Strom, R. O., D’Espallier, B., & Mersland, R. (2014). Female leadership, performance, and governance in microfinance institutions. Journal of Banking & Finance, 42, 60-75.

Sun, S. L., Zhu, J., & Ye, K. (2015). Board openness during an economic crisis. Journal of Business Ethics, 129(2), 363-377.

Taylor, V. (2002). La marchandisation de la gouvernance. Perspectives feministes critiques du Sud. Edite de l’anglais par Fatou Sow. Paris: L’Harmattan.

Tchouassi, G., & Nosseyamba, B. (2011). Corporate governance and maximization of shareholder value: theoretical analysis from Francophone countries in Africa. Journal of Public Administration and Policy Research, 3(6), 198-206.

Terjesen, S., & Singh V. (2008). Female presence on corporate boards: a multi-country study of environmental context. Journal of Business Ethics, 83, 55-63.

Triana, M. C., Miller, T. L., & Trzebiatowski, T. M. (2013 March-April). The doubleedged nature of board gender diversity: diversity, firm performance, and the power of women directors as predictors of strategic change. Organization Science, 25(2), 609-632.

Watson, W., Kumar, K., & Michaelsen, L. (1993). Cultural diversity’s impact on interaction process and performance: comparing homogeneous and diverse task groups. Academy of Management Journal, 36, 590-602. doi:

Westphal, J., & Milton, L. (2000). How experiences and network ties affect the influence of demographic minorities on corporate boards. Administrative Science Quarterly, 45(2), 366-398.

White, B., Cox, C., & Cooper, C. L. (1992). Women’s career development. Oxford: Blackwell.

White, B., Cox, C., & Cooper, C. L. (1997). A portrait of successful women. Women in Management Review, 12(1), 27-34.

Woetzel, J. et al. (2018). The power of parity: advancing women’s equality in Asia pacific.

Shanghai: The McKinsey Global Institute Report.

Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research: design and methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Young, I. 1994. Gender as seriality: thinking about women as a social collective. Signs, 19(3), 713-738.

Zhang, J. Q., Zhu, H., & Ding, H.-B. (2013). Board composition and corporate social responsibility: an empirical investigation in the post Sarbanes-Oxley era. Journal of Business Ethics, 114(3), 381-392.

Zhu, D. H., Shen, W., & Hillman, A. J. (2014). Recategorization into the in-group. The appointment of demographically different new directors and their subsequent positions on corporate boards. Administrative Science Quarterly, 59, 240-270.

Journal Information


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 52 52 5
PDF Downloads 19 19 0