Read the working paper
INSEAD Working Paper 2015/52/OBH
This paper examines the relationship between board diversity and firm performance. Using 14 years of panel data on U.S. firms, we show that increasing gender diversity has no impact on objective measures of firm performance, but does result in a systematic decrease in the firm’s market value. We explain this finding by suggesting that the decision to appoint female directors will alter the market’s perception of the appointing firm. In a second panel study, we show that firms perceived to be committed to diversity similarly suffer a decrease in firm value. Finally, we show through an experiment that female board appointments are taken as a signal that the firm is motivated by social performance goals, to the detriment of pure profit maximization. Collectively, these three studies suggest that female board appointments are viewed as diversity measures, and as a signal of a broader commitment of the firm to social welfare goals, as opposed to strict shareholder value maximization. This mechanism, we argue, operates irrespective of the actual or perceived competence of the female nominee. We discuss the implications of our findings for future research on board diversity and firm performance.