Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Up Against the Boards

This blog is close to home for me, from University of Maryland.  It is about a study by UMd faculty member Waverly Ding showing the lack of women on corporate boards.   Along with co-authors Fiona Murray of MIT and Toby E. Stuart of University of California Berkley, she analyzed survey data of 6,000 U.S. scientists in the biotech industry over a career span of 30 years.  In a paper in the Academy of Management Journal, they find that women at the professorial rank are almost 50% less likely to serve on corporate boards and start new companies than equivalent men.

The study included controls for professional accomplishments and other academic factors to make the best possible apples-to-apples comparison.   About 30% of PhD earners in this field are women, but only 7% of those women serve on corporate boards.  This percentage on boards is about half that of that for male scientists.  Board membership is particularly important in this area of science because research is often tied to corporate needs and funding.  "Beliefs that women lack leadership and business savvy, and are not capable of helping new ventures attract investment, block their advancement in these areas", according to Dr. Ding.

What can universities do to help?  Many universities have technology transfer offices and they can greatly assist in making the contacts between researchers and corporations.  They can provide the networking avenues needed to make initial contacts.  Having universities professors on boards can bring significant benefit to the school in terms of funding opportunities and scientific contacts.

Dr. Ding sums up her motivations in the following nice quote:  "Our nation's continued preeminence in science and technology will depend on engaging the best and the brightest, regardless of gender."