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Bringing Women on Board: The Social Policy Implications of Gender Diversity in Top Jobs

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 October 2019

Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Barnett House, 32 Wellington Square, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 2ER, UK email:


This paper argues that analyses of the gendered character of welfare states should be broadened to include women’s share of board and executive roles, as well as the affirmative-action policies (e.g. gender boardroom quotas) that help to overcome the gender stereotypes (e.g. women are ‘nice’, men are ‘assertive’) and opaque selection procedures at the root of this. Such indicators may seem beyond the remit of social policy analysis, which is concerned foremost with the analysis of ‘social risk’. However, drawing on evidence from across multiple disciplines, this paper argues that achieving a ‘critical mass’ of women in board and executive positions can bring women’s issues onto companies’ agendas and lead to the adoption of female-friendly practices, policies, and cultures at the firm level. Crucially, these practices, policies, and cultures can help to reduce the incidence of gendered social risks (employment/care conflicts, economic dependence on a partner) and sexual harassment among women at lower levels of the labour market. Thus, the paper highlights another dimension to the social-regulatory function of welfare states which has to date been overlooked, namely legislative requirements on companies to achieve gender diversity in their leadership structures.

© Cambridge University Press 2019

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