Breaking the glass ceiling “could start with a game of golf”

Study highlights influence of social capital in executive labour market

Breaking the glass ceiling “could start with a game of golf”

Women who participate in male-dominated social activities such as golf, are more accepted on predominantly male corporate boards, according to research published by the National University of Singapore Business School.

The study looked into how social networks operate on gender lines by analysing golf games. It revealed that women who play golf are 90% more likely to serve on a board compared to women who do not play golf. Likewise, female golfers are 54% more likely to serve on corporate boards than male golfers.

“There is evidence of a gender glass ceiling, but there are means to overcome gender disparity,” said Sumit Agarwal, Visiting Professor of the Department of Finance. “To mitigate this glass ceiling in corporate boards, women should not feel hindered but participate more freely in activities associated with career progression. In this case, golf is seen as effective in boosting women’s representation on corporate boards.”

Results come from a 2000 to 2014 data set of over 10,580 golfers and more than 1,640 directors. Among the board of directors, 90.6% are male, while nine in 10 golfers are also male.

Data showed that women are 89% less likely to serve on corporate boards of listed firms than men, but golfing facilitates women’s directorships in publicly-traded companies.

The trend was more pronounced among firms with larger market capitalisation where female golfers are 125% more likely to serve on a board compared to their male counterparts. In small firms, playing golf did not affect female board membership.

According to the results, industries with low female representation typically have prohibitive barriers to networking – but women golfers were 117% more likely to serve on the board of directors in these industries compared to their male counterparts.

“Social capital and networking foster career outcomes in the executive labour market. While these work for men and women, women’s involvement in a male-dominated social activity such as golf appears to enhance their chances of being appointed to the board in a large listed company,” said the professor.

 

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