Written by Kate Watson
Having at least one woman director on a company's board can reduce its chances of going bust by about 20 per cent, according to recent research.
Nick Wilson, professor of credit management at Leeds University Business School (LUBS), looked at 17,000 companies in Britain that were wound up last year. His research suggested there was a strong correlation between healthy finances and the presence of women on the board.
Why do women make such a difference to a company's fortunes? According to the LUBS research, there are three main theories. First, having men and women on the board gives a balance of complementary skills that result in a better-run company. Evidence shows that women tend to take on less debt and are better at managing cash flow; they may also have better people management skills - a lot of HR directors, for example, are women.
Second, women tend to take a less excessive approach to risk, which may explain the lower insolvency rate for companies with women on boards. Third, it has been suggested that as women generally have to work harder to get to the boardroom, the ones who do make it are exceptionally effective.
In Asia, the women in executive board positions are often there by virtue of family connections. Deacon Chiu Te-ken's daughter Margaret Chiu at Far East Holdings is one example; Lee Shau-kee's sister, Fung Lee Woon-king at Henderson Land Development is another.
A report last year from Catalyst, a US-based business focused research firm, found that Fortune 500 companies with a higher percentage of women executives were more profitable.
Companies with the largest representation of women board directors and corporate officers achieved higher financial performances, enjoying on average equity returns 53 per cent higher than those with the lowest proportion of women. What this means is that companies with good people practices and strong diversity programmes are the ones that get ahead, said Deirdre Lander, head of Human Capital Group at Watson Wyatt in Hong Kong. 'It's about using different approaches to access the skills of every group. The level playing field is not enough,' she said.