Are women on boards positively associated with tighter audit committee controls and thereby improved internal control?

There is evidence that gender diversity is associated with tight financial control and tougher monitoring practices, thereby also with improved risk management governance (Adams & Ferreira, 2008). Women are also more likely to enter monitoring committees while men enter other committees for example the committees that are dealing with compensations etc. Men that have entered the audit committee also have greater attendance problems than female colleges (Ibid). Furthermore research also shows that there is a link between feminine traits, gender diversity and more honest governance practices especially in relation to corruption (Sung, 2003). As women are elected to corporate boards in Denmark and Sweden it is expected that they will find their way into roles which is supported by their talent and their traits. The audit committee has the function of overseeing the governance of the board and act as an internal corporate control mechanism. Both of these roles are supported by feminine traits and research has shown that these committees are positively influenced by women participation. In this context a higher than average representation of women in the audit committee would support the argument that traits are important in relation to board behaviour and that women contribute to effective risk and audit management on Swedish and Danish boards.

The process of finding empirical evidence for the claim that gender has influence on audit committee performance is somewhat different for Swedish and Danish companies. The governance structure of Swedish companies is disclosed in a separate report, in most cases called the Governance report. In some cases the report can be found as part of the annual report. In the governance report, companies disclose their organisational structure, financial information about the board members, ownerships structure and the work done in different committees. The audit committee is part of this structure and normally have a separate section where the composition, processes and a recapitulation of the work done is disclosed. The governance structure is not always as transparent in Danish companies as seen in Sweden. Even though the companies disclose the same information it is less structured and there are more sources that one that has to investigate in order to get an overview of committees, composition and processes. Most of the information is, however, disclosed in the annual report. In cases where the structure was not totally clear I used other sources such as corporate website and greens online database.

The results show that the average size of a audit committee in Denmark is 5.1 (ranging from 2 to 13 members) while the same for Sweden is 3.4 (ranging from 3 to 7). For four of the Danish companies the whole board were part of the audit committee in practice making the audit committee and the board one and the same. The gender composition in Danish audit committees is 9% for highly diversified while it is 11% for low diversified compared to the 16% women on Danish boards in total. Compared to the overall average including all Danish companies in the survey the average female representation was 12 % making both high and low diversified companies below average. This indicates that women are not represented to a significant degree in the Danish audit committees. The average number of women in the Swedish companies in the survey is 32% indicating a significant gender impact compared to the total percentage of women on Swedish boards, which is 23,9%. Companies considered low diversified have significant lower than average women on the audit and the numbers indicates that women do not find their way in to the committee if there is an overrepresentation of men on the board.

In Denmark, companies have only recently been required to create an audit committee, which should function as a control body of the internal audit. The legislation is part of a general tightening of controls that have followed in the wake of several great financial scandals abroad and domestically. The Danish regulations are especially influenced by the practices in USA where audit committees have been in place for a longer period as an integrated part of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulation (Collier et al., 2003). The short time that the legislation has been in place can explain why companies in Denmark have audit committees where the number of members’ range 2 to 12 and in some cases encompasses the whole board. As there are no rules on the size or composition of the committee the board can decide to elect the whole board as the audit committee. While this can be viewed as complying with the law, the practice is not a representation of “the intend” of having an independent review committee, that can supervise and improve the decision making process of the board in total.

The results from the audit committee gender representation from Denmark show that the differences in relation between the highly and low diversified are not significant. A contributing factor to this could be that the Danish legislation on the establishment of audit committees is not very old and therefore not an established practice on Danish boards. As boards get more acquainted with how the audit committee can be used and what competencies is needed for it members I would expect that more women will be represented as time passes. Another factor can be contributed to the fact that since Danish boards have fewer women in general it makes them less likely that women would be part of the audit committee. In contrast to Danish performance is the representation seen in Swedish boards significant different, where women have can be found to have taken almost half the seats on the audit committee. Swedish boards have more women on their boards than Danish ones but this alone cannot explain the 45% women on the audit committees. A possible explanation can be found in the traits of women and male behaviour.

As I have shown is there research that suggest that women on monitoring committees have better attendance and performance that their male colleagues (Adams & Ferreira, 2008). The reason why women have improved attendance can be explained by the trait of collective thinking. Women are associated with taking ownership of processes and creating working environments, which includes more stakeholders in problem solving (Yukel, 2010:468). In order to be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the collective, and maybe themselves as well, women tend to put more emphasis on own attendance. Men on the other hand will tend be more concerned with own opportunities and development of their career and will not look up on attendance as a way to advance their career. Male traits could lead them in the direction of careerism and informalism in order to develop their own opportunities rather than the aims collective as a first priority.

One of the major functions of the audit committee is to reduce the risks that the corporation is subjected too. It is therefore imperative that the members display behaviour, which strives to meet this goal. As women are associated with being more risk averse (Jianakoplos & Bernasek, 1998) it is more likely that they will be in groups where this trait can be utilized. The reason is that women over time will find a place on the board where they have the most impact and in this case it is the audit committee. As time passes and corporate boards distribute different roles to its members there will under ideal circumstances be a situation where the members’ talents and competencies will determine what function they will have. As Swedish companies have since 1st of January 2006[1] have been compelled to formulate audit committees as part of their structures, it is also more likely that women would have found their way into this committee given their unique traits.

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