There’s never been a better time to be a woman? Gendered discourses on the route to the boardroom

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The lack of women on boards has galvanised much public and policy interest in recent years, which has led to many countries introducing quotas or voluntary targets. In the UK, the Lord Davies’ (2011) report set a target of 25 per cent women on boards by 2015. It also recommended that greater transparency and rigour be brought to the recruitment process, which has traditionally been opaque, and recruited from a narrow pool. Given that the gender target has been met, it is often presumed that this is evidence for greater transparency in the appointment process; however, very little is still known about the way that directors are recruited, or how this process may be gendered. 
This thesis examines the recruitment process of non-executive directors in the UK, through the experiences of those individuals going through the process. Longitudinal qualitative interviews were conducted with men and women seeking non-executive director (NED) roles on FTSE 250 and FTSE 100 boards. Through a collaborative sponsorship with an executive search firm who afforded access to aspiring directors, this research provides a deep analysis of the board appointment process. Utilising longitudinal methodology and a discourse analysis, this thesis examines the language and linguistic candidates use to make sense of their experiences, the consistencies and inconsistencies in their accounts of the process, and how their sense-making discursively creates meaning. It outlines how aspiring board candidates discursively construct the ideal board member and how they position themselves towards this ideal, the networking practices they perform to gain access and visibility with appointing boards, and how they make sense of success and failure. This reveals how the process is gendered: candidates draw on gendered language to make sense of an unpredictable and complex appointment process. 
The research draws on and contributes to three key literatures. First, it contributes to research on women on boards, through showing how the notion of an ideal board member is constructed, challenging human capital explanations for women’s absence from boards, while demonstrating the importance of subjective factors and ‘fit’ with the board. It also demonstrates how aspirant directors navigate the appointment process through their networking practices, and how these networks and networking practices are gendered. Second, it contributes to theoretical work on gender and organisation, highlighting the value of a gendering organisation approach to board diversity that moves beyond ‘body counting’ as a measure of success. Third, it emphasises the importance of placing women on boards in a wider social context, understanding them as a members of a corporate elite. It argues that the appointment process operates as a gendered, elite closure mechanism, which is discursively maintained through elite norms of recruitment.
Date of Award1 Jul 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorElisabeth Kelan (Supervisor), Rosalind Gill (Supervisor) & Aditi Gupta (Supervisor)

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