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‘I’m interested in human behaviour’: Renée Adams boards, diversity and women in leadership

Date:18 February 2020
University of Oxford Professor of Finance Renée Adams visited Groningen to speak at Corporate Finance Day, an opportunity for academics to network and share their research
University of Oxford Professor of Finance Renée Adams visited Groningen to speak at Corporate Finance Day, an opportunity for academics to network and share their research

Renée Adams is Professor of Finance of the University of Oxford. She currently sits on the council of Society for Financial Studies, serves at Management Science and chairs the co-founded AFA’s “Academic Female Finance Committee”. Adams recently visited Groningen to give the keynote address at the 16th Corporate Finance Day, a yearly event that aims at providing a platform for academics in corporate finance and related fields, allowing them to network and present their research.

Adams’ research interests include corporate governance, group decision-making and gender diversity on and off boards. She has published multiple papers in top journals in finance, accounting, economics, finance and management, including in the Journal of Finance, Journal of Financial Economics and Review of Financial Studies. FEB Research caught up with Professor Adams for a Q&A.

Q. How did you find yourself working in academia?

A. I was interested in so many things that I could not decide on a profession. Because of my widespread interests, the career services center kept on recommending that I join the military, which was, in fact, the only thing I was really not interested in doing. Finally, I realised that staying in academia would allow me to pursue my many interests.

Q. What drew you to your research topics?

A. I am interested in human behaviour, particularly in group settings. So I started out studying corporate boards of directors because they are important examples of groups. But I've also studied betting on ice break-ups in Alaska, the market for art, mutual funds, preferences and stereotypes, gender on and off boards and central banks, lobbying... I guess for me that is exactly the point: I study what I am interested in and think is important.

Q. Why is gender in leadership an important policy concern?

A. It is hard to miss the fact that there are few women in top positions.

Q. What has surprised you most in your research into women on boards?

A. The reaction to the research. It is an ideological mine-field. It is surprising how difficult it is for academics, whose job it is to interpret the world in terms of data, to put aside pre-conceived notions of what women are like. The same goes for non-academics. People only pay attention to research that makes them feel comfortable.

Q. Do women directors bring something different to the table?

A. If they don't, it seems there should be more female directors. So, it seems clear that they do. In my research I show that women on boards look quite different from men on boards but in unexpected ways. For example, on boards women are less risk-averse than men.

Q. Are initiatives to increase diversity in workplaces beneficial, or does it depend on the initiative?

A. They are beneficial if they are designed to address specific problems. A lot of times people don't think clearly about the problem they are trying to address. A good example is "family leave" for academics, i.e. leave that either the mother or the father can take. It has been shown that the policies help the men with children even more than men without children and definitely more than women. The reason the policy fails is that it does not acknowledge that bearing children is very different from not bearing children and that the bearing of children is part of what can slow women down.

Q. What issue would you like to take on in the future?

A. The role language plays in reinforcing cultural norms.

Corporate Finance Day in Groningen was organised locally by Niels Hermes, Egle Karmaziene and Nassima Selmane. The day featured sessions on topics such as capital structure, corporate bonds, entrepreneurial finance, corporate governance and private equity. The event was sponsored by the University of Groningen and De Nederlandsche Bank. The organisation looks back at a successful event with close to 100 participants from across Europe, the United States and Asia. The next event will be held in Liege, Belgium.