#WomenExcel, Impact

As a woman and long-time reputation researcher, I have always been interested in studying the effects of gender differences on CEO and corporate reputation. Until recently, however, I have been unable to indulge my curiosity. There simply were an insufficient number of female CEOs from which one could draw reliable conclusions. While still only 12 percent of all global businesses have female CEOs, we now have a sample which — though still small — is sufficiently large enough to investigate the effects, if any, of female presence in the corner office.

We at Weber Shandwick recently conducted a study that does just this. We questioned over 1,750 executives online in 19 markets worldwide with KRC Research, the findings of which were released just a few days before International Women’s Day. Although the survey looked at business executives’ perceptions and expectations of CEOs today, we asked a few questions about the CEOs of female-led companies. As we celebrate women worldwide, their past achievements and their even greater achievements to come, I am pleased to share some of our study’s results.

First, the good news. The direct relationship between gender and corporate reputation might just be gender-blind. Both male and female CEOs are just as likely to run companies with very strong reputations and to exhibit equally strong CEO reputations. Moreover, the reputations of male and female CEOs are perceived to contribute approximately the same levels to the market value of their firms. These findings are heartening.


Source: The CEO Reputation Premium: Gaining Advantage in the Engagement Era, Weber Shandwick with KRC Research, 2015.

Now, the not so good news. We hit a gender-bender when we asked global executives whether they would want to be a CEO one day. Nearly one-third of male executives (32%) but only roughly one-fourth (23%) of female executives said yes. The difference is significant and does not bode well.

Our economic, social and political futures rely heavily on the increasing participation and equality of women in leadership positions. We already know from breakthrough research conducted by Catalyst, a leading nonprofit focused on providing opportunities for women and business, that companies with the highest representation of women in their top management teams experience greater financial performance than companies with lower representation. As women — for ourselves and our communities — we need to do better than to have only two out of 10 female executives aspire to lead our best companies in the future.

Who are these women who aspire to role of the chief executive? If we understand that, perhaps we can learn how to encourage others to similarly aspire. According to our research, these women are more likely than their male counterparts to be Millennials, to be employed in privately held companies and to work for female CEOs (although concededly, there are still too few female CEOs to make this finding truly representative).

What might explain this? Some conjecture is appropriate. Female Millennials, more so than male Millennials, are less likely to have hit glass ceilings and to have faced gender discrimination if only because of the brevity of their experience in the workforce. Unlike their older sisters who have experienced less-hospitable times, they are more likely to view the climb up the ladder as more gender-neutral and obtainable.

Additionally, women in privately held businesses, compared to their male counterparts, may more likely see themselves as free to act without being hamstrung by the checks and balances of public companies. They may feel less beholden to the ever-increasing demands of shareholders and perhaps more likely to pursue a long-term view that includes more than the bottom line. For some reason, they are better able to envision themselves at the top in these types of organizations and less hindered by obstacles.

Having a female CEO role model seems to make a difference for women seeking a rise to the top. The challenge is giving more women the same chance to work for a female CEO, up close and personal.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Make It Happen (#MakeItHappen). We should take it seriously. Business people of both genders need to encourage all women to aspire. It is good for women. It is good for men. It is good for business. We need to give female Millennials the right CEO role models whom they can emulate and observe in action. With more women at the top, there will be more aspiring to reach the top, and women, men and the world will all benefit.

Comment below to share your thoughts on the effects of gender differences on CEO and corporate reputation. Be sure to use the #WomenExcel hashtag when you share this post on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook.


Dr.Leslie_HS_BW_89x100Leslie Gaines-Ross is the Chief Reputation Strategist at global public relations firm Weber Shandwick. She is one of the world’s most widely recognized experts on reputation — how reputations are built, enhanced and protected. She is the author of two books — CEO Capital: A Guide to Building CEO Reputation and Company Success and Corporate Reputation: 12 Steps to Safeguarding and Recovering Reputation — as well as Reputation Warfare, which appeared in Harvard Business Review and Get Social: A Mandate for New CEOs for MIT Sloan Management Review. Leslie, her husband and their golden retriever live in brownstone Brooklyn. Leslie’s blog can be found at reputationXchange and you can follow her on Twitter at @ReputationRx.

Originally published Mar 30, 2015

Author: Leslie Gaines-Ross