Women in Business

Board Gender Diversity

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Marelaine, Lead Associate within the Audit and Assurance department received Best Dissertation Award in an area related to Corporate Governance by the Department of Accountancy. The title of the study was 'Board of Director Gender Diversity in Equity-Listed and Large Public Sector Entities: A Maltese Viewpoint'.

Research findings

The purpose of the study is to raise awareness of the need to improve board gender diversity (BGD) in Maltese equity-listed entities (MLEs) and large public sector entities[1] (LPSEs)[2] . The road to becoming a director is perceived to be smoother for males than for females. Both in Malta and the rest of the EU, directors have become “type-casted as males” (Camilleri, 2019, p.58[3], European Institute for Gender Equality 2021[4]) since many corporate boards have just one or a limited number of female directors, if any (Psaila, 2019[5]; Torchia et al., 2011[6]). 

The first objective of this study was to identify and assess the barriers to BGD in MLEs and LPSEs and analyse the extent of BGD presence therein. BGD barriers were found to mainly result from four main areas. These are: (i) historical and cultural influences including patriarchal structures, gender stereotyping - especially that involving male stereotyping of board directors - and also strong family traditions; (ii) limited existing networks owing to country smallness and scarce visibility of females; (iii) lack of mentors offering guidance to females; and (iv) the inequitable sharing of childcare responsibilities between parents rendering work-life balance difficult for females.

Additional barriers were noted to arise from the composition of shareholders. When the majority of shares are family owned, family traditions can easily create difficulties in nominating female candidates. In addition, if the majority of shareholders are foreigners, their local culture may influence the composition of the board against female directors. Another obstacle was found to be that of having to counterbalance the legal right of shareholders to appoint directors with the appropriate calibre with the need for gender diversity. It was also noted that other potential barriers may arise from the type of industry in which the entity operates as it may require specialised skills and knowledge that are traditionally male-dominated. The Covid-19 pandemic has also caused greater challenges for women owing to increased household care responsibilities.

On average, MLE/LPSEreps were neutral as to the presence of BGD in MLEs and LPSEs, indicating their undecidedness as to the extent to which BGD is found in all the entities. The mean rating scores relating to the extent to which BGD is found to be present, which were allotted to LPSEs in general and to the respondent own entities varied significantly among the groups. While LPSEreps agreed that BGD was present in LPSEs in general, MLEreps were undecided about this. Furthermore, while LPSEreps also agreed that BGD was present in their own entities, MLEreps were also undecided about this. This indicates that the positive perceptions by LPSEreps of BGD presence in LPSEs in general and in their own entities are generally higher than those perceived by MLEreps. In this context, the female/male ratio extracted by the author from published data[7] (as at 30th September, 2021) in public sector entity boards was 25:75 while the specific ratio of LPSEs was 29:71. Both such ratios were much higher than the female/male ratio of 12:88 found in MLEs as at the same date.


The second objective of this study was to assess the perceived implications of BGD on board effectiveness (BE) in such entities. Respondents mostly agreed that a variety of skills and personalities resulting from BGD will have the most positive impact on BE. Both males and females have different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences which is beneficial for the board. Moreover, respondents agreed that BE will be positively impacted by the minimisation, if not prevention, of groupthink that is likely to result from BGD. With a gender-balanced board, other options may be considered that otherwise would not have been evaluated. Nonetheless, respondents perceived BGD to be least positively impacting on more regular attendance at board meetings.


Some respondents were against the notion of achieving a female critical mass. However, the levels at which most respondents perceived the female critical mass to be typically reached in a board for such a board to be likely to benefit varied from having a 50:50 female/male ratio to a 33:67 ratio or 60:40 ratio of the board being females or two female directors.  A few respondents added that while they were quantifying such a mass, they also held that what mostly matters is that there is a “reasonable representation” from both genders on the board.


Significant associations were made by respondents of characteristics/conditions either to females but not to males or to males but not to females. Those respondents who associated characteristics/conditions to females but not to males varied from:

  • 15 or 51.7% of all respondents in multi-tasking, to 
  • 12 or 41.4% in eye for detail, to
  • 8 or 27.6% in ethical behaviour, to
  • 5 or 17.2% in being unnecessarily subjected to board scrutiny and to
  • 4 or 13.8% in being unnecessarily subjected to board expectations.


Contrastingly, those respondents who associated characteristics/conditions to males but not to females varied from:

  • 13 or 44.8% of all respondents in risk-taking, to
  • 10 or 34.5% in mobility, to
  • 7 or 24.1% in seeing the overall picture and to
  • 5 or 17.2% in being practical.


Several respondents associated three other characteristics with females which were:

  • emotional orientation which in the opinion of some rendered board relations somewhat more complex. According to the other respondents, such orientation rendered the board as more likely to consider the impact of sensitive decisions such as those relating to employees. 
  • better preparation for board meetings.
  • more approachability.


On average MLE/LPSEreps were neutral in the overall impact of BGD on BE indicating their undecidedness as to the extent to which BGD is impacting on BE. The mean rating scores relating to the extent to which BGD is impacting on BE, which were allotted to the respondent own entities varied significantly among the groups. While LPSEreps felt that BGD is positively impacting in their own entities, MLEreps were undecided about this. This indicates that the positive perceptions by LPSEreps of the impact of BGD in their own entities are generally higher than those perceived by MLEreps in their own entities.


The third objective of this study was to recommend how the level of BGD may be improved.

The general view was that, if implemented, quotas will address female under-representation on the board. However, only a few respondents, of whom three were males and five were females, perceived quotas as a “necessary evil” so as to get the ball rolling. The remaining respondents, of whom sixteen were males and five were females, felt that quotas are not the way forward. Several respondents expressed the opinion that, like every other role, appointments should be solely based on what one can contribute to the board in terms of skills, competence, and experience. Females who may not have the “right talent” could still end up on the board for the purpose of complying with the quota. Therefore, quotas were perceived to have a “counterproductive effect” on the company’s effectiveness and the responsibilities towards shareholders.


Quotas were found to be “somewhat offensive” towards women because “on their own merit they can go places”. If quotas are in place, females might become stereotyped. The appointed female director could be very knowledgeable and capable, but this would become irrelevant as the impression would be that they are present on the board undeservedly. While quotas have worked in Nordic countries, such countries do not have a “macho” culture as is the case in Malta. It may be useless to impose a quantum because although the female talent pool is currently improving it is as yet deemed to be insufficient. Furthermore, a female appointed by quota might tend to be less included in the decision-making of the board. While it should not be more difficult for females to reach directorship roles, this should neither be made easier by giving a competitive advantage to women through the implementation of quotas. Rather than “hiding” the present difficulties by implementing quotas, these should be tackled by deep analysis.



Gathering Data

Primary data was collected from the MBR and also from public company information so as to analyse what the current female/male ratio on the boards of MLEs and public sector entities is. Secondary data was gathered from a variety of sources which was then used to create an interview schedule. Prior to starting the process of interviewing participants, a pilot interview was carried out to assess the interview schedule’s feasibility as well as identify and address potential difficulties in practice. 

The Official List as at 30th September, 2021 was obtained from the Malta Stock Exchange (MSE) website so as to determine all the MLEs listed on the MSE. In addition, the list of public sector entities as at the same date was obtained from a public website offered by the Government. All public sector entities were contacted via email or their telephone number to find out whether they employed 250 or more direct employees so as to determine whether or not such entities were to be included in the research.

 After all the entities eligible to participate were determined, the Malta Business Registry (MBR) website and public company information were used to determine who are their company secretaries and directors. To contact the potential respondents, email addresses were obtained from company websites and the MSE website.

 A total of 29 interviews were conducted. From such interviews, 20 were conducted with their respective MLEreps and a further six interviews were conducted with their respective LPSEreps. Research participants were determined to be company secretaries, board directors, and regular participants in board meetings (including chief officers, assistants to the company secretaries and a financial controller) since such participants are expected to be familiar with the mechanism of the board and Corporate Governance practices of the respective MLEs and LPSEs. Three other interviews were conducted with representatives of three institutions as their contribution was thought to provide a more comprehensive analysis of the research area. To counteract for any biased perspectives, it was crucial to interview both male and female participants, as shown in the table below:

Respondents participating in the research

 Respondents participating in the research


The interviews were conducted between the 5th of November 2021 and the 15th of February 2022 at a date, time and place most convenient for the respondents. Due to the recurring COVID-19 pandemic, participants were asked whether they prefer to hold the interview virtually rather than physically and if so, which online meeting platform they prefer to use. Indeed, almost all interviews were held via Microsoft Teams or Zoom except for two interviews. The interview schedule was shared with the respondents prior to the interview and a copy was always displayed throughout the interviews which lasted between half-an-hour and two hours. Most of the participants were eager to delve deeper into the topic and pointed out some very interesting points throughout the interviewing process. It was interesting to note the different perspectives of male and female participants working in different sectors within the private and public sector. Respondents were asked to give their explicit consent to audio-record the interview and all accepted. Audio-recorded interviews were transcribed to get the most out of the interviews conducted.


The sources of qualitative data were the open-ended questions included in the interview schedule and any additional comments made by respondents following their ratings to the Likert scale questions. Evaluation of such qualitative data was completed by a summary of the transcripts of respondent replies and comments which facilitated spotting similarities and disparities in their answers. Furthermore, the analysis of the respondents’ additional comments, following their ratings to each Likert scale question, was mainly focused on the more important aspects. The source of quantitative data comprised of close-ended questions which included a five-point Likert scale. The quantitative data gathered was then analysed using IBM SPSS Statistics.


Efforts were made to interview at least one representative from each MLE and LPSE. However, a limitation of the study was that, while all six LPSEs accepted to be interviewed, two of the potential 26 MLEreps refused to participate while a further four failed to respond, this limiting the number of MLEreps to 20. A further limitation concerned the fact that subjectivity in the responses of respondents was unavoidable. In addition, slight discrepancies were noted between the ratings given to some of the Likert scale questions and the corresponding comments.


We encourage readers to watch this space, to find out what conclusions were reached, as well as what recommendations could be given to Maltese public authorities to mitigate the effects of patriarchal structures.


[1] LPSEs include corporate or banking entities that engage 250 or more direct employees and in which the Government has at least 51% ownership.

[2] A mixed-methods research approach was adopted. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with representatives from MLEs (20 entities), LPSEs (6 entities) and relevant Institutions (Institreps) in Malta (3 institutions), making up a total of 29 participants. Such participants consisted of company secretaries, directors, regular participants in board meetings and high-ranking officials from the institutions selected.

[3] CAMILLERI, J., 2019. The composition of the board of directors: a study. M.A. Dissertation, Malta: University of Malta. Available: https://www.um.edu.mt/library/oar/handle/123456789/49860.

[4] EUROPEAN INSTITUTE FOR GENDER EQUALITY, 2021-last update, Gender Statistics Database, [Online]. Available: https://eige.europa.eu/gender-statistics/dgs/indicator/wmidm_bus_bus__wmid_comp_compbm/datatable [Sep 11, 2021].

[5] PSAILA, P., 2019-last update, Hard and Soft Skills for Career Success: Women at Work [The Malta Institute of Accountants], [Online]. Available: https://www.miamalta.org/the-accountant/spring-2019/8233641 [Aug 30, 2021].

[6] TORCHIA, M., CALABRÒ, A. and HUSE, M., 2011. Women Directors on Corporate Boards: From Tokenism to Critical Mass. Journal of business ethics, 102(2), pp.299–317. DOI: 10.1007/sl0551-011-0815-z.

[7] GOVERNMENT SERVICES AND INFORMATION, 2021-last update, Officially appointed bodies [gov.mt], [Online]. Available: https://www.gov.mt/en/Government/Government%20of%20Malta/Ministries%20and%20Entities/Officially%20Appointed%20Bodies/Pages/Companies/1-OAB-Companies.aspx [Sep 30, 2021].