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Female CEOs are more often under attack

Men-women-balance is crucial for evaluating C-Level




Women are as CEOs 50% more often under attack than their male counterparts regardless of their economic success and the financial results they have delivered. This is the key insight of a US-American study that has analysed respective attacks against CEOs of listed companies between 1996 and 2013. Cliche-like reflexes towards females in top functions are on display for the first time.
That given the scientists recommend to all stakeholders – the board, media, shareholders, clients and customers alike – to be very much aware of this latent anti-women-stereotype which is capturing the minds of people dealing even with top management.
Immediate measures to counteract these prejudices are according to the authors: a) to report more often and longer about success of female CEOs and b) to have an eye on the balance between the number of men and women within the shareholders or investors: the more men you can find in these in-groups the more frequently and the more clearly you have to expect critique in case of a woman who sits at the top.

Do women CEOs face greater threat of shareholder activism compared to male CEOs? A role congruity perspective. Gupta/Han/Mortal/Silveri/Turban, Journal of Applied Psychology, 2018, vol. 103, Nr. 2, 228-236.

From Practice:
Indeed, some of my female clients as CEO, managing director, president or chairwoman were confronted with personal attacks. I never got the impression, though, that the attackers (by the way most commonly men, but not always) did so because of their conviction women would be unsuable as top management. Moreover we could plausibly deduce: female leaders are expected not to fight back as vehemently as men. Attacks on them are therefore supposed to be more successful than those on men.
So I am recommending women at C-level in general:

  1. To be clear in communication and to be in doubt more offensive than defensive.
  2. To make oneself and one´s perfomance visible which means to work on one´s self-marketing
  3. To apply high, but not exhausting standards on oneself. After all plenty of wonderful women tend to burn themselves out much more quickly than necessary physically and mentally.

It is regular part of my CEO-coaching, no matter if man or woman, to anticipate potential attacks from inside and outside and to develop jointly how to react appropiately. A plan for the first 100 days is almost always a very good idea in such a case since first impressions with board, C-level peers and employees count most.


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