In this Article, we report and analyze the results of forty-six wide-ranging interviews with corporate directors and other relevant insiders on the general topic of whether and how the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of corporate boards matters. In particular, we explore their views on the concept of “critical mass” — that is, the theory that women and racial or ethnic minorities are unlikely to have an impact in the boardroom until they grow from a few tokens into a considerable minority of the board. 

In contrast to other recent qualitative research on corporate boards, we find more limited support among our respondents for critical mass theory. Though some female respondents expressed the view, consistent with critical mass theory, that having more women on the board increased their comfort level and eased some of the stresses associated with being the first and only female, this narrative is in tension with our respondents’ apparent embrace of their first and only status. Moreover, with the possible exception of employee relations, our interviews largely fail to support the theory that a critical mass of female directors will produce different, and distinctly feminine, boardroom outcomes.

Lissa Lamkin Broome, John M. Conley & Kimberly D. Krawiec, Does Critical Mass Matter? Views from the Board Room, 34 Seattle University Law Review, 1049–1080 (2011).