In an effort to remove barriers that hinder women’s advancement in the workplace, legislators have adopted gender quotas and targets to increase the numbers of women on boards (WOB). In 2011, the Davies Review rolled out the guidelines of the United Kingdom’s soft law approach for increasing the proportion of WOB in the largest publicly listed organizations. Promoted by advocates and proponents of WOB initiatives, the assumption that inequality is perpetuated by men and not women, has resulted in the expectation that WOB initiatives are a top-down approach to achieve gender equality in the workforce. This study examined the effects of the Davies Review, U.K.’s soft law for increasing WOB, on changes in board composition, opportunities for other women in the organization, and the gender pay gap. Using longitudinal data from 2008 to 2016, for 395 FTSE All Share firms, this study examined the effects of the Davies Review using a rigorous research design and methodology. This study’s main analyses used a non-parametric regression discontinuity design and supplemental tests used growth models.

Findings of this study provided support for the causal effect of the Davies Review on increasing the percentage of WOB in FTSE 350 organizations below the compliance threshold established by the Davies Review. Additionally, ignoring differences in power and status that favor men in leadership roles, increased numerical representation of WOB has gone unchallenged as a measure of gender diversity performance. To test its effect, this study used women’s board representation at 20%, 25%, and 30% to test critical mass of WOB on organizational indicators of gender equality. Counter to the assumption that, at some point of the representation spectrum, women reach critical mass and influence organizational outcomes, this study found no evidence of critical mass of WOB on opportunities for other women in the organization or the gender pay gap. At a representation of 25% of WOB, a large negative effect was found on opportunities for women on executive boards. In line with previous findings of the effects of WOB initiatives on the gender pay gap, this study found that organizations that increased their percentages of WOB more aggressively, had a much wider gender pay gap than organizations that underwent small changes. Similarly, it was found that female CEOs increase the gender pay gap by 4.33% for each year of tenure, which is consistent their primary duty of maximizing profitability for the organization’s shareholders, and with how their performance is assessed. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

Date of publication

Spring 5-13-2019

Document Type




Persistent identifier


Committee members

Kim Nimon, Andrea D. Ellinger, Forrest Lane, Julia Storberg-Walker


Doctor of Philosophy in Human Resource Development

Available for download on Thursday, May 13, 2021