Golf Buddies And Board Diversity

Sumit Agarwal
National University of Singapore

Wenlan Qian
National University of Singapore – NUS Business School

David M. Reeb
National University of Singapore

Tien Foo Sing
National University of Singapore (NUS) – Department of Real Estate

December 12, 2015


We study the participation of women in golf, a predominately male social activity, and its influence on their likelihood of serving on a board of directors. Exploiting a novel dataset of all golf games in Singapore, we find that woman golfers enjoy a 54% higher likelihood of serving on a board relative to male golfers. A woman’s probability of serving on the board in a large firm or in a predominately male industry increases by 117% to 125% when she plays golf. In summary, our results suggest that “playing the boys game” facilitates women’s directorships in publicly-traded firms.

Golf Buddies And Board Diversity – Introduction

Women’s share of board seats in developed economies averaged 16.7% in 2014, varying from 3% in Japan to 19% in the US, and 30% in France (Catalyst, 2015). Although a stream of studies demonstrates performance benefits from boards comprised of both men and women (Adams and Ferreira, 2009), alleviating gender disparity proves difficult to achieve. Norway sought to increase female participation in the executive labor market by regulating the minimum levels of female representation, leading other European countries to also implement gender quotas (Ahern and Dittmar, 2012; Bertrand et al., 2014). Female director nominations often arise from shareholder resolutions introduced by institutional investors or social activists (Anderson et al., 2011). Despite these external calls for greater female representation on the board, we have limited information on the impediments to their participation or the mechanisms women use to overcome these frictions in the executive labor market.

Research in economics indicates that social capital influences placement and earnings in the labor market (Simon and Warner, 1992). Unsurprisingly, gender influences the assembly and duration of social networks (Lewis et al., 2012; McPherson et al., 2001). Psychology research shows that children recognize, at early ages, suitable gender-related activities and behaviors (Martin and Ruble, 2004). Others emphasize that gender norms and social identity affect the involvement of women in social networks. For instance, in sports – a common social activity, gender stereotype influences the involvement of women by type and participation rates within the sports (Eccles and Harold, 1991). Reinforcing the gender disparity issues, women comprise less than 9.7% of sports editors in the Associated Press and less than 2% of sports radio hosts (Women’s Media Center, 2014). Yet, sport groups constitute one of the most prevalent types of social networks among adults (Putnam, 1995).

We explore the role of social capital and the gender ceiling in the executive labor market using data on golf games. Specifically, we study whether women who play golf – a largely male-dominated sport – are also more likely to serve on the board of directors of publicly-listed companies. Anecdotally, golf is an important social network tool in corporate America. One perspective is that golf outings reinforce male social networks and bonding, limiting their usefulness for female golf players. Mayer and Puller (2008) report that social networks often operate along gender lines and serve to emphasize gender identity. Heilman et al. (2004) find that women involved in male-dominated activities are often penalized in their career outcomes. Because golf is a social activity with substantial male participation, involvement in this male-led activity could limit a woman’s opportunities in the executive labor market.

Board Diversity
Board Diversity

Alternatively, female participation in golf may allow women to enter prominent social networks and increase their involvement in the labor market. Female executives reap career benefits from sports participation in general (Ernest and Young, 2014), suggesting that golf may provide a similar social capital for both men and women. Alternatively, women engaging in a predominately male activity might gain additional social capital relative to their male counterparts. This perspective suggests that women “playing the boys game” could increase their acceptance by predominantly male corporate boards. Moreover, women’s participation in male-dominated social activities could provide information on their efforts in overcoming gender disparities. Overall, cogent arguments exist that women’s participation in golf could either hinder or increase the likelihood of them serving on a board of directors.

To examine the relationship between a women’s participation in golf and their likelihood of serving on a board of directors, we collect data on the directors of the 431 firms listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX). Merging this information with data on golfers’ handicap books in Singapore from 2000 to 2014, we obtain a comprehensive database sample of 10,584 golfers and 1,646 directors. Over 87% of golfers in this sample are male, confirming that golf is predominately a male sport in Singapore. In our analysis, golfers exhibit a higher probability of holding a directorship. The odds ratio, which captures the likelihood of an outcome after treatment, indicates that female golfers exhibit a 54% greater chance than their male counterparts of serving on a board of directors. In the multivariate tests that incorporate ethnicity, individual age, and a housing-sector fixed effect, we again find that female golfers display a relatively higher likelihood than male golfers of serving on a board.

To further explore if female-golf effects are associated with either general wealth effects or social capital, we split the analyses by small and large firms. If wealth effects explain these golf-related probabilities for women, the impact should be greater in small firms. In contrast, if social capital explains these findings, the effect should be more pronounced in large firms. Our analysis indicates that in smaller or less hierarchical firms, a woman’s participation in golf has no differential impact on the likelihood of holding a board seat relative to male counterparts. In contrast, in large firms with presumably more hierarchy, female golfers exhibit a 125% higher likelihood of serving on a board relative to male golfers. These results provide a picture of how social capital potentially helps overcome the gender ceiling in the executive labor market.

Board Diversity
Board Diversity

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