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What’s the value of gender diversity, anyway? (podcast)

The ongoing series of gender eruptions in Silicon Valley and elsewhere suggest a provocative question: does the representation of women on corporate boards really improve corporate performance?

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“What is Arianna Huffington doing on the board of Uber?” Imogen Rose-Smith of Institutional Investor magazine wonders in the latest Returns on Investment podcast. “She was quite happy to sit on the board for the last few years without changing the culture.”

Imogen cites recent research that the presence of women on boards does not lead to outperformance, challenging what she calls a “cherished myth” of gender-lens investors. Her recent article, “The research diversity experts don’t want you to read” cites a synthesis of peer-reviewed research by Katherine Klein, vice dean of the Wharton School of Business and head of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. There is no material outperformance for boards that have women on them,” Imogen says.

That removes a facile rationale for ensuring representation of women in corporate governance, but doesn’t undercut the basic value proposition. “Uber is an example where treating women right has huge implications for the business,” Imogen says. We’ll have to dig deeper than token board seats to identify levers for gender-equity culture-change.

Self-reflection is a good start, she suggests. “The impact investing community needs to turn around and look at itself,” Imogen says.

That includes fellow Returns on Investment podcast participants Brian Walsh of Liquidnet and…me! “You guys struggle with it in a way you don’t struggle with other issues,” Imogen says.

Have a listen as our roundtable wrestles with gender dynamics in real-time.

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