Fortune 500 companies with more women than men on their boards of directors make more money, says a non-profit corporate research study.

The study by Catalyst compared the performance of companies with the highest and lowest representations of women on their boards to find that on average, firms with the highest percentages of women did between 42 and 66 per cent better financially than those with the lowest.

While not declaring a direct link between more diversity on directorial boards and better financial performance, president of Catalyst Ilene H. Lang suggested the results are unlikely to be an accident.

“Clearly, financial measures excel where women serve on corporate boards,” Lang said.

A previous study released by Catalyst in 2004 showed evidence that companies with a higher percentage of women in managerial and executive positions perform better. Boards of directors tend to serve in a supervisory role, while executives are often tasked with making crucial day-to-day decisions.

John Kervin, a Sociology professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in workforce issues, shares the study’s enthusiasm for recognizing the importance of women in the workplace and suggests the real success story is how the growth of women executives overall has changed the workplace for the better. He believes the greater diversity on boards has been born out of the leadership level — CEOs, presidents and partners — as well as a slow-but-steady opening up of corporate culture to women.

“I think that having more women on the boards of directors is a consequence of the change in corporate culture and a higher percentage of executive officers who are women,” Kervin said.

He says the attainment of higher executive and decision-making positions by women, not necessarily advisory or supervisory ones like those on a board of directors, will continue to be the real driving force behind positive moves toward workplace diversity.

“I don’t think it’s women on the boards — it’s women who are corporate officers who are making the difference,” he said.

Kervin is also quick to point out also that despite some promising growth in recent years, equality between the sexes is still far from being realized in the workplace.

“Even for the Top 50 companies, an average of only 17 per cent of their corporate officers are women,” he said.

He suggests the expected downturn in the economy will only make it harder for more women to move into the executive ranks in the short term, but social trends are pointing to a much more equitable workplace in the future.

“Many more women than men are graduating from university and many more are going into management. It’s like slowly turning on a dimmer switch — change comes slowly, but it does come.”

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