Ruth Sunderland (Daily Mail journalist) is willing to engage with evidence showing that placing more women on corporate boards leads to financial decline

[Note added 2.7.14: I’m pleased to say Ruth Sunderland has asked for materials supporting our position, and I’ve just emailed some to her.]

Ruth Sunderland is a business journalist with the Daily Mail, one of many journalists who relentlessly peddle the idea that having more women on boards is ‘a good thing’ and refuse to engage with the evidence which shows that driving up female representation on boards leads to corporate financial decline, a matter covered exhaustively by Campaign for Merit in Business. Their briefing paper with the Abstracts of five longitudinal studies is here.
I’ve posted and commented on one or two of Ms Sunderland’s articles before. My thanks to Jeff for pointing me to her recent article on Glencore’s appointment of its first female director. It contains a gem of a sentence, and I’ll comment on its two constituent parts:

There is no hard evidence that having women on the board causes better performance…

Almost correct. If you remove the word ‘hard’ these words are true, but still misleading. As the briefing paper from Campaign for Merit in Business shows, placing more women on boards leads to declines in corporate financial performance. Onto the second part of the sentence:

…but there is a strong correlation.

Ms Sunderland is clearly leading us to believe this correlation is of significance in supporting the promotion of more women onto boards. In all the reports we’ve analysed – including those from the feminist campaign group Catalyst, to which Ms Sunderland refers – it’s made crystal clear that correlation isn’t evidence of causation, and can’t even be taken to imply it.

I think we could agree there’s a correlation between how much wealth men have (or are expected to have one day) and the attractiveness of the women they marry – but we don’t say that attractive women make men wealthier, do we?

Yesterday I called the Daily Mail and left a message on Ms Sunderland’s answerphone, explain I head up J4MB and C4MB, and outlined why I’d appreciate a phone discussion. Not having heard from her, I left a second message this morning. She called back about half an hour ago, but unfortunately I didn’t have my mobile with me at the time. She left the following message:

I very much doubt whether either I will convince you or you will convince me (laughs). This is not a subject I’ve just hit upon and not given any thought to. I’ve done a lot of reading, a lot of discussion, and a lot of thinking about it, and I very much doubt given the organisation you come from (laughs) and the fact you seem to think women perform worse than men, we would really move the situation much further on, so personally I think we would be better off just to agree to differ.

I called back and left another message on her answerphone, explaining this isn’t an issue on which we could ‘agree to differ’, because the evidence base shows her convictions to be demonstrably false. I asked for her email address to present that evidence. I’ll update this blog piece if she responds.

About Mike Buchanan

I'm a men's human rights advocate, writer, and publisher. My primary focus is leading the political party I launched in 2013, Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them). I still work actively on two campaigns I launched in early 2012, Campaign for Merit in Business and the Anti-Feminism League. In 2014 I launched The Alternative Sexism Project, aiming to raise public understanding that the sexism faced by men and boys has far more grievous consequences than the sexism faced by women and girls.
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  • Hi Mike

    I think that you really need to explain to these people in simple terms the difference between longitudinal studies and cross-sectional studies.
    Most of them don’t have a grasp of statistics, so it will just go over their heads and they’ll switch off. This is even more the case for the general audience.

    I’d suggest that you say that longitudinal studies are ‘before and after studies’ so they show the effect on performance over time of quotas whereas the studies quoted by e.g. Catalyst are cross-sectional studies which are ‘a snapshot in time’ and so don’t show the effect of quotas on performance.over time.

    The other point that I would make is that if we look at the work of Catherine Hakim (which I know that you have quoted before) who found that 4/7 UK men were work oriented versus 1/7 women you will naturally find a preponderance of men in senior positions because 80% of the people who are prepared to put in the 70 hour weeks year in year out to get there are men. It’s nothing to do with discrimination.
    It also follows from Hakim’s work that if you have all women short lists for senior jobs, you are selecting from a pool of only 20% of the available talent. No surprise then if you don’t get the best people and performance declines.

    • Thanks Paul. I’d expect a business journalist to understand the difference between the two sorts of studies, and have explained in an email to Ruth Sunderland. I’ve also just sent her a note which included a link to Catherine Hakim’s Preference Theory.

  • I found “before and after” and “snapshot” really helpful to my understanding. As “Joe public” I can’t comment on a journalist’s understanding. But it does really help my understanding, and my ability to explain to others, to have a simpler description. Probably does nothing for my intellectual standing, but it helps me grasp the facts and explain them to others. Dumbing down? Well, maybe, but it may help in some contexts.