By - Sandi Webster

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: The Role of Women on Advisory Boards

An advisory board is a group of external experts and professionals who provide guidance, advice, and support to a company’s leadership team. These boards can drive strategic direction, offer insights into industry trends, and ensure sound corporate governance.

Despite the growing awareness of the importance of diversity, advisory boards still suffer from a significant lack of gender diversity. Women continue to be underrepresented in these vital decision-making roles, limiting the potential for innovation and growth.

Addressing the gender imbalance on advisory boards is an ethical imperative and essential for companies looking to remain competitive in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the underrepresentation of women on advisory boards, the benefits of gender diversity, and strategies for increasing female representation.

The Business Case for Gender Diversity

Research has consistently shown that diverse groups make better decisions than homogenous ones. Gender diversity on advisory boards can lead to more comprehensive decision-making processes considering various perspectives, reducing the likelihood of groupthink and fostering innovation.

Increased financial performance

Companies with a higher proportion of women on their boards have been found to outperform their less diverse counterparts financially. A study by Credit Suisse found that firms with at least one female board member outperformed those with none by 26% over six years.

Improved corporate reputation

Companies prioritizing gender diversity on their advisory boards are committed to ethical and responsible business practices. This prioritization can enhance their reputation among customers, investors, and other stakeholders, making them more attractive to talent and capital.

Innovation and creativity

Gender diversity has been linked to increased innovation and creativity within organizations. By bringing together individuals with different experiences and perspectives, companies can foster a more innovative and forward-thinking culture, driving competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Why Women Are Underrepresented on Advisory Boards

Deep-rooted societal and cultural norms contribute to the underrepresentation of women on advisory boards. These norms often place greater expectations on women to fulfill caregiving roles, limiting their opportunities to pursue leadership positions.

Gender discrimination, both overt and subtle, continues to be a barrier to women’s advancement in the corporate world. Unconscious biases can lead to women being overlooked for advisory board positions or held to higher standards than their male counterparts.

Women often face limited access to professional networks and opportunities that can lead to advisory board appointments due to a lack of visibility or exclusion from informal networks that influence decision-making.

The Importance of Women on Advisory Boards

Diverse perspectives lead to better decisions

Women bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table, which can lead to better decision-making processes on advisory boards. Companies can make more informed and strategic choices by ensuring diverse viewpoints.

Women bring unique skills and experiences

Women often possess different skills and experiences than their male counterparts, which can be highly valuable on advisory boards. For example, women may have greater risk management or corporate social responsibility expertise, contributing to more well-rounded decision-making.

Increased accountability and transparency

A gender-diverse advisory board can lead to increased accountability and transparency within a company. By involving more stakeholders in the decision-making process, companies can reduce the potential for conflicts of interest and ensure that decisions are made in the best interests of all shareholders.

Representation matters

Ensuring women are well-represented on advisory boards sends a powerful message to employees, customers, and investors about a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. It can increase employee engagement, customer loyalty, and investor confidence.

Successful Gender-Diverse Advisory Boards


Microsoft has made significant strides in promoting gender diversity on its board, with women holding several key positions. The company has actively promoted diversity and inclusion and has been recognized as a DE&I leader.

The Estée Lauder Companies

The Estée Lauder Companies is firmly committed to gender diversity, with women holding over 40% of its board seats. The company’s efforts to foster diversity and inclusion have been widely recognized and have contributed to its continued success in the global marketplace.


Coca-Cola has made significant progress in promoting gender diversity on its board, with women holding several key positions. The company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has driven its continued growth and innovation.

JPMorgan Chase & Co.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. has promoted gender diversity on its board, with women holding key leadership roles. The company’s dedication to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace has been instrumental in its continued success and growth.

Strategies for Increasing Gender Diversity on Advisory Boards

Create a diverse pool of candidates

When searching for new advisory board members, companies should actively seek out diverse candidates. This search can involve expanding beyond traditional networks, partnering with organizations that promote women in leadership, and considering candidates from different industries or backgrounds.

Foster an inclusive culture

To increase the number of qualified female candidates, companies should work to create an inclusive culture that supports and promotes gender diversity. Inclusion can mean offering mentorship and sponsorship programs, supporting work-life balance, and encouraging open dialogue about diversity and inclusion.

Set diversity goals and hold leadership accountable

Companies should establish specific, measurable goals for increasing the number of women on their advisory boards and hold leadership accountable for achieving these goals that involve setting target percentages for female board representation and regularly reviewing progress.


Increasing gender diversity on advisory boards is essential for companies looking to remain competitive in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. Companies can benefit from more comprehensive decision-making processes, increased financial performance, and enhanced corporate reputations by ensuring that women are well-represented in these key decision-making roles.

Companies must prioritize gender diversity on their advisory boards and implement strategies to increase female representation. By doing so, they can ensure that they are well-positioned to navigate the challenges of the modern business world and capitalize on the many benefits of diversity.

As awareness of the importance of gender diversity continues to grow, more companies are expected to prioritize female representation on their advisory boards. By working together and actively advocating for change, we can break down barriers and pave the way for a more inclusive and prosperous future for all.

List of Additional Resources

Books and articles on gender diversity in business

There are numerous books and articles available that discuss the importance of gender diversity in business, including “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, “The Athena Doctrine” by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, and “Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will to Change” by Jennifer Brown.

Organizations working to increase gender diversity on advisory boards

Several organizations are dedicated to promoting gender diversity on advisory boards, such as Catalyst, the 30% Club, Women Corporate Directors (WCD), and the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).

Research studies on the benefits of gender diversity in decision making

Numerous studies have highlighted the benefits of gender diversity in decision-making, including research by McKinsey & Company, Credit Suisse, and Harvard Business Review. These studies provide valuable insights and data that can help inform strategies for promoting gender diversity on advisory boards.