The Female CEOs “Group” – Strength or Guilt?

Reminder

Isn’t it interesting that we, the media, etc. see female CEOs as a coherent group, but we don’t do this with male CEOs?  In one study they found that shareholders react more negatively to the announcement of a female CEO than that of a male CEO. However, this might have more to do with the way media reports about these announcements.

In a recent study Dixon-Fowler and others asked the question whether considering female CEOs as group may lead to strength in numbers (legitimation) or to guilt by association (contagion). For the latter part (legitimation vs. contagion) they designed two (contrasting) hypotheses to measure this:

  • 1a: Firms with existing female CEOs will experience positive stock market reactions when there is a succession event resulting in the appointment of a female CEO at another firm.
  • 1b: Firms with existing female CEOs will experience negative stock market reactions when there is a succession event resulting in the appointment of a female CEO at another firm.

Hypothesis 1b was supported suggesting that guilt by association is the way the female CEOs are being considered.

However, why is it that female CEOs are considered as a homogeneous group and male CEOs are not? There is a specific research stream (Entitativity),  which focusses on these types of group perceptions (stereotyping, identity, etc.). So-called entitative groups (e.g. female CEOs) are influenced by the (1) frequency of interaction among members, (2) importance of the group, (3) similarity among members, and (4) the extent to which they share common goals and outcomes.

Analysing the announcements of female and male CEOs it becomes clear the media (still) considers female CEOs as an entitative group, but not so with male CEOs.

One would think (and hope) gender is disappearing as an issue in appointing a CEO. Companies appointing CEOs can help by managing press releases highlighting qualifications and accomplishments of the CEO, while minimising gender stereotypes.

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