When Ellen Pao, who recently stepped down from her role as interim chief executive officer of Reddit, the most popular English-language discussion forum in the world, due mainly to sexist remarks made about her, it sparked a debate about the problems faced by female CEOs. Few and far between, these top executives are often hounded by relentless prejudice. Yet, according to a recent study, the online reputation of male and female CEOs and the impact their reputation has on their company’s brand image and market value are almost identical. The same survey also shows that the gender and online reputation of the company CEO has a significant influence on female executives working in the company.
No doubt you have already seen the photo of Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, posing pin-up style for Vogue in 2013. This mediatised self-promotion caused an uproar in feminist circles, where some thought that her egocentric motives could result in a reputational risk not only to herself but also to the company she runs.
The reputation of a CEO is key to an organisation’s success – it is one of the most valuable assets that a company possesses and represents an indisputable competitive advantage.
Of course, men can also be affected by reputational risk in the same way as women. According to a 2014 study by international PR agency Weber Shandwick, the influence a CEO has on their company’s positive reputation and market value is almost identical whether the chief executive officer is male or female.
The online survey of over 1,750 executives working in companies with revenues of $500 million or more and representing 19 different countries, revealed that CEO gender has no influence on the way a strong reputation is formed and maintained within an organisation. A corporate leader’s reputation depends essentially on one consistent factor – the company’s success.
“We were delighted to find that the gender of the chief executive has no impact on the company’s reputation or its market value,” said Arnaud Pochebonne, General Manager, France and Executive Vice President, EMEA.
Female CEOs – attracting more female executives ?
Another of the survey’s findings was that female CEOs play a major role in encouraging female executives to prolong their careers within the company and work their way up the ladder. According to the Weber Shandwick study, CEO gender has little effect on whether male executives are likely to stay within a company, yet has a greater influence on the decisions of female executives, who are more likely to stay in an organisation if it is run by a woman.
When a female executive works for a female CEO, her commitment to the company goes up by 29%. “Our research indicates that when women work for female CEOs, they are more motivated to strive to be corporate leaders themselves,” said Gail Heimann, president of Weber Shandwick.
So is there a strong tie between female executives and female CEOs? The results certainly show the important role female corporate leaders play in breaking the glass ceiling for the next generation.
“For today’s women CEOs, heightening their external visibility [through online presence on social media etc. (editor’s note)] also inspires the next generation of women leaders,” said Carol Ballock, Executive Vice President of Executive Equity and Engagement at Weber Shandwick.
Online reputation of female CEOs – female executives rate external communication skills and caring about the quality of the workplace above all else
While CEO gender is important for female executives, CEO reputation is absolutely vital – according to the survey, female executives are significantly more likely than male executives to say that their CEOs’ reputations influence them to stay at their companies (64% vs. 54% respectively).
What qualities in a CEO are most admired by executives? While men and women put “clear vision for the company” at the top of the list and tend to be in agreement on most other attributes as well, male executives are more likely to admire decisiveness and inspirational/motivational qualities in their CEOs. Women, on the other hand, admire external communications skills and caring about the quality of the workplace.
Online reputation of female CEOs – equality through mentoring ?
Almost 7 out of 10 survey respondents (men and women combined) said that gender equality should exist among corporate leaders. For 50% of men and 58% of women, one way of increasing the number of female CEOs is to create more female mentors. Mentoring, which consists in providing support in both personal and professional development, already helps women obtain higher positions in a large number of organisations.
Read the full results of the survey on Female CEO reputation here.