As discussions of inequality ring louder and increasingly occupy our social psyche, our interdisciplinary team (together with Seth Goldman and Brendan O’Connor from the University of Massachusetts Amherst) has examined the racial and gender diversity among the elite professionals that govern large and prominent organizations around the world.

Rather than simply counting the presence of leaders with different demographic characteristics, we use the dynamics of board ties across organizations to study interrelationships among these elites and analyze how an individual’s connections and position in the elite network are related to their gender as well as their race.

When an individual is connected to several powerful organizations through board connections, they forge ties among these organizations and consequently among people who serve on these boards. Network analysis helps us explore these interconnections among leaders, thus revealing their complex social structure. In our sample, we document about 9,000 ties connecting 1,600 individuals circa 2018—a massively complex global network.

We looked at how the representation of different groups changes as we move from the periphery to the core of the network. We find that women—and non-white women in particular—are proportionately more confined to peripheral positions within the network. We find that the representation of white males increases as we move from the periphery to the core. While it is perhaps not surprising that men still make up the majority of governing boards, what is significant is how being a woman disadvantages her from being included in the “core” of the network. After white men, white women are the most frequently represented demographic in our sample.

Despite significant steps toward a greater inclusion of women within leadership positions around the world, women leaders nevertheless remain relatively peripheral in network terms which may be confining their power and influence and hindering them from reaching their full potential.

Read the full article about a network analysis on female representation by Tuugi Chuluun and Kevin L. Young at Brookings.