Gender Diversity on JV Boards: Where Are All the Women?


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GettyImages-530686109 (1).jpgONE HUNDRED YEARS ago this month, women received the right to vote in the U.K. – a major milestone in the fight for gender equality. In Saudi Arabia later this year, women will be allowed to drive for the first time. And on corporate boards and executive management teams, women are making slow but steady progress in filling more top jobs. In fact, Spencer Stuart’s latest 2017 Board Index shows that, for the first time in the history of their research, more than half of incoming new directors are women or minorities. Women now globally account for 22% of corporate directors among the top companies in the world – noteworthy headway, even if opportunity to improve yet remains.

The Boards of joint ventures, however, are not among the bastions of progress.

A Water Street Partners analysis of 137 JV Boards encompassing more than 1,000 JV Board Directors shows that across industries less than 10% of JV Board Directors are women (Exhibit 1). The gender gap is even more pronounced in the natural resource sector, where our data shows that just 6% of Directors on joint venture boards (or equivalent governance bodies) are women in the mining industry, 4% in the oil and gas industry, and 1% in the chemicals and petrochemicals industry (Exhibit 2). These levels are also well below the percent of women in executive leadership positions in the same industries.

Exhibit 1: The Joint Venture Board Gender Gap
Percent of Female Directors on Boards

Exhibit 1 The Joint Venture Board Gender Gap_Strategy.png

Source: 2017 Spencer Stuart U.S. Board Index, Water Street Partners.  
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Exhibit 2: Gender Diversity Across Industries 
Percent of Women on Joint Venture Boards, Corporate Boards, and Executive Teams by Industry 
(N=137 JVs)

Exhibit 2 Gender Diversity Across Industries v3.png

Click to Enlarge

1 Corporate executives includes partners, managing directors and those holding C-level jobs.
Source: Water Street Partners JV database; PWC analysis of Spencer Stuart 2016 Board Index data; Grant Thorton 2016 data.


These facts are at odds with the pronouncements of many of the world’s largest publicly-traded natural resource companies, which are publicly committed to gender diversity. And as a group, these companies are the most JV-intensive firms in the world, with operated and non-operated joint ventures accounting for 30-80% of the production, revenues, and profits of the largest international players. Can these companies be fully committed to gender diversity with so few women serving as directors of ventures that are driving their business? 

We don’t think so.

We are not suggesting that these companies are deliberately denying opportunities to women, nor are we suggesting that women should occupy 50% of JV Board Directors board seats overnight. What we are suggesting is that the largest natural resource companies ask themselves: Why are women under-represented on JV Boards relative to the percent of women on our own board and in our own top management positions, and what are we going to do to close this gap?

To the extent that there is good news here, it is this: this gap in the natural resources industry between the presence of women on JV boards and the presence of women on corporate boards and in executive leadership positions is the result of progress at the most senior levels of these companies. A recent Thomson Reuters study showed that corporate boards in the energy and basic materials sector have seen the greatest increased presence of women in recent years among all industries.

But it begs the question: is this progress going to translate into JV Boards or are natural resource companies more committed to the optics of diversity than the practice of it when out of public view? After all, listed companies are required to publicly disclose information about who sits on their board and who fills their executive leadership positions – and this information is tracked and reported by many outside organizations, and public pressure is brought by investors, regulators, and advocacy groups when such positions do not represent the broader population. In contrast, information on joint venture board composition is hard to get, is not required in public disclosures – and therefore largely hidden from view.


Why should companies care about gender diversity on their JV Boards? From our vantage point, the case rests on five main arguments – arguments that collectively provide a moral and business imperative, and that each provides a sufficiently standalone case for action: 

  1. To improve JV performance. While our dataset of JVs is not large enough to provide a statistically-defensible basis for correlating JV performance and JV board gender diversity, studies on corporate boards have shown such correlations. It is reasonable to assume that such  ...

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The authors would like to thank Carla Wilson of Origin Energy for raising this topic to our attention, and for her thoughtful comments on a draft of this article.

   Thompson Reuters, Analysis of Board Diversity and Performance, Sept 2016; Credit Suisse Research Institute, Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance, Aug 2012; Price Waterhouse Coopers and TIM, Mining for Talent: A Study of Women on Boards in the Mining Industry, 2013.