But the study, from respected US think-tank the Peterson Institute and EY, could find no impact — negative or positive — from simply having a female chief executive and only marginal impacts from women on the board.
"While the boards of publicly traded firms are an easy target for legislators, the pay-offs for policies that would facilitate women rising through the corporate ranks more broadly might be larger," it concludes.
Its findings add further fuel to the debate about improving the chances of women breaking into the male-dominated senior posts.
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Despite years of focus on increasing gender diversity, progress remains slow: nearly one-third of companies analysed in the report had no women in either board or top management positions, 60 percent had no female board members and 50 percent had no female top executives.
In the UK, the government-backed Davies Review recommended in the Autumn that a third of all board seats at Britain's biggest companies should be held by women by 2020, raising its previous aim of 25 percent by 2015.
While no formal targets were set for executives, speaking to the Financial Times Lord Davies said "radical change" in the executive layer was needed if progress was to be maintained and he backed the idea of formal targets in principle.