Social Policies to Support Women’s Employment and Achieve Gender-Friendly Workplaces

Social Policies to Support Women’s Employment and Achieve Gender-Friendly Workplaces

This project: (1) presented a social rationale for gender diversity in the boardroom, which posits that putting more women on boards can help to combat the sexual subordination of women in the workplace and reduce the incidence of social risk for women at lower levels of the labour market; (2) analysed the policy factors that help us to understand why some advanced economies have been more successful than others in addressing women’s underrepresentation on corporate boards.

The first part of the project was conceptual and went beyond the business case and justice or ‘fairness’ arguments for gender-diverse boards by proposing a social rationale. This involved synthesising evidence from across multiple disciplines to show the relevance of women’s board membership - and the policies designed to increase it - for scholars and policymakers interested in women’s ‘social risks’, including employment/care conflicts, economic dependence on a partner, inadequate social security coverage, and low wages. Women in board and executive roles signal that the organisation values women and are often ‘agents of change’ in pushing for organisational policies, practices, and cultures that improve the ‘women-friendliness’ of workplaces. These include measures to combat sexual harassment, action to reduce gender wage disparities in the firm and flexible working arrangements, which can benefit all women in the company, including the lowest earners. This argument strengthens the case for greater government action in its role as regulator of market actors’ behaviours through legislation designed to break the ‘glass ceiling’ at the top of companies. You can read the peer-reviewed paper here.

The second part of the project was an empirical analysis of the policies associated with a ‘critical mass’ of women on boards. An influential body of work has identified a ‘welfare-state paradox’: work–family policies that bring women into the workforce also undermine women’s access to top jobs. Missing from this literature is a consideration of how welfare-state interventions impact on women’s representation at the board-level specifically, rather than managerial and lucrative positions more generally. This research contributed to addressing this ‘gap’ by examining how welfare-state interventions combine with gender boardroom quotas and regulations in (not) bringing a critical mass of women onto boards. It did this through a fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis of 22 advanced economies, which involved analysing countries as ‘packages’ of policies and looking at the shares of women on boards that are associated with each package. Macro-level data were collated mainly from various Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development databases. Overall, the analysis found limited evidence in support of a welfare-state paradox. Rather, countries are unlikely to achieve a critical mass of women on boards in the absence of adequate childcare services. Furthermore, ‘hard’, mandatory gender boardroom quotas are not necessary for achieving more women on boards; ‘soft’, voluntary recommendations can also work under certain family policy constellations. You can read the peer-reviewed paper here.

Funding: The Economic and Social Research Council and the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership.

Helen Kowalewska
Lecturer/Assistant Professor

Lecturer/Assistant Professor at the University of Bath with interests in comparative social policy, gender and employment.