One Female Executive Is Not Enough

But some companies may think it is, according to a new study from the Robert H. Smith School of Business and Columbia Business School. The researchers studied 1,500 companies from 1991 to 2011 and found a “quota effect”: after hiring the first woman to fill one of a company’s top five positions, the chances of that company hiring a second woman executive dropped by 51%.The study didn’t clarify what causes the quota effect, but there may be implicit biases at play: “Once they had appointed one woman, the men seem to have said, ‘We have done our job,’” said Cristian Dezso, one of the study’s authors. It could be that hiring one woman makes other executives feel as though they’ve checked off a diversity box, and placates those who had been pushing for more female representation. It may also be that the first woman executive is viewed by her male colleagues as exceptional, and future female executive candidates are held to impossibly high standards as a result.Whatever the reason for the effect, Dezso thinks the study’s implications for those who want more women in leadership roles is clear: don’t let companies stop at one. “[Activists] need to keep up the pressure or even apply more pressure” once the first woman is hired, he says.