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What inspired you to become a professor?

During college, I majored in economics in public policy, and after college I worked for a litigation consulting firm specializing in economic-related issues. At the consulting firm, we relied heavily on academic research. This led to an interest in academic research. I am inspired by the ways in which academic research influences real-world outcomes, for example firm policies and regulatory decisions.

International Women’s Day is a tribute to the brave women who campaigned for women’s rights in the past. What women/woman have/has most inspired you in your life?

It is difficult to choose a single woman (or even a small number of women). I think that I am most inspired by the large number of women over history who have broken (often strict) gender norms. Perhaps my favorite book is ‘Pope Joan’, a historical novel based on evidence that there was a woman pope during the Dark Ages.

Why are there still so few female scholars conducting corporate governance research?

There are two ways to look at this question: the ‘glass half full’ or the ‘glass half empty’. The ‘glass half full’ answer is that there are many more women now than there were in the past. While the increase is greatest among assistant professors, we also see more women in top editorial positions. This is encouraging!

However, the ‘glass half empty’ answer is that there remains a significant leaky pipeline, that is, there continue to be fewer women advancing to more senior positions (compared to men). Evidence from a 2020 survey of AFA members suggests that both unconscious bias and more explicit discrimination contribute to this (Adams and Lowry, 2022). To provide a few specific examples:

  1. In tenure evaluations, women receive less credit than their male co-authors (Sarsons, 2017).
  2. In presentations, participants tend to be more aggressive asking questions when the presenter is female (Dupas, Modestino. Niederle, and Wolfers, 2023).
  3. When submitting papers, the bar is higher for women than men, to receive a revise and resubmit (Card, DellaVigna, Funk and Iriberri, 2020).
  4. On the teaching front, students in online classes give significantly higher teaching evaluations when they believe their finance professor to be male (MacNell, Driscoll, and Hunt, 2014).
  5. There is some evidence that women face higher service obligations, leaving less time for research (Adams and Lowry, 2022).

Why is there underrepresentation of women in corporate leadership roles? (are they the same reasons?)

It is more difficult to precisely examine the determinants of women's progress in corporate leadership, because there is much more heterogeneity in people's jobs. However, the big-picture takeaways from studies of academia (where we can precisely estimate individuals’ productivity, for example in terms of research output, teaching load, etc.) are informative. Women face higher expectations, and they often receive less recognition for the work they do.

What do you believe are the most effective strategies for organizations to foster an inclusive corporate culture that encourages gender diversity in leadership roles?

First, it is critical to provide effective mentoring to women, at every stage of individuals’ careers. This is especially important in more male-dominated organizations, where men will find it easier than women to self-identify mentors.

Second, it is critical to have multiple women in leadership positions. Often, organizations strive to have ‘at least one women’ in a leadership team. That is not sufficient. People have a natural tendency to feel more comfortable with people who are more like themselves. When there are five men in the room and only one woman, the woman might feel less comfortable strongly expressing her opinion. In contrast, a ratio is four-to-two or three-to-three is much more effective in fostering an inclusive corporate culture.

What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders looking to break into traditionally male-dominated industries in the fields related to corporate governance?

Build a network. This network should include both people at one’s own level and people at more senior levels, and it should include both men and women. Network effects often have a strong effect on who gets a job. In male-dominated industries, this tends to favor males, because they naturally have a larger network. While building a network may require more effort for women (particularly in male-dominated industries), this effort will pay off.

What future trends or developments do you anticipate in the area of women's representation in corporate governance and academia?

Let me highlight three facets:

First, one striking aspect about the participation of men versus women is that the participation of women is more skewed. We see this across many factors: job offers, seminar invitations, and conference discussions. Among men, the distribution is approximately bell-shaped. In contrast, a small group of women receive numerous invitations, while many others receive significantly fewer.

Second, on some dimensions, we are making substantial progress – and it is important to remember this. Women’s representation among both the most junior levels and among the most senior levels has increased. I am optimistic that these trends will continue. However, we continue to see a leaky pipeline: growth in the percentage of female assistant professors far outpaces that among full professors. Similarly, within industry, we have seen substantial increases in women’s representation in boardrooms, but there is more progress to be made. Relatedly, representation in the C-Suite remains relatively low.

Third, one of the strongest influences of whether a woman pursues a particular path is whether there is somebody in that role who the woman can self-identify with. For example, female students are more likely to envision a career in finance if they have female finance professors. This is strong motivation for people within universities to continue pushing for more diversity: diversity in the faculty contributes to future diversity in the workforce.

Michelle Lowry is the TD Bank Professor of Finance at the LeBow School of Business, Drexel University. She is an editor of the Review of Corporate Finance Studies, and past associate editor of both the Journal of Financial Economics and the Review of Financial Studies. She is a founding member of AFFECT (Academic Female Finance Committee), which strives for gender equality among the field of finance academics. Currently, she is the Director of Mentoring for AFFECT and a member of the advisory board. She is President of the Financial Management Association (FMA), and she is a director of the American Finance Association (AFA) and a past director of the European Finance Association (EFA). Her research has been published in top finance journals, including the Journal of Financial Economics, the Review of Financial Studies, and the Journal of Finance. She is winner of the 2021 Jensen Prize, for Best Paper published in The Journal of Financial Economics in the areas of Corporate Finance and Organization.

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