Are markets too quick to judge female CEO’s?

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Meg Whitman

The appointment of Meg Whitman as CEO of Hewlett Packard this week brought immediate doom and gloom predictions from analysts and market experts – unfortunately this comes as no great surprise. 

Regular surveys including yearly studies by Catalyst find the following:

  • Companies with the greatest number of women on their boards performed significantly better financially than companies with fewer female board members.
  • Women in high-ranking corporate positions offer their companies many benefits, so much so that many firms purposefully seek out female directors.
  • Because there are so few female CEOs, a new female CEO appointment generates more uncertainty — and more negative reaction — among investors than the appointment of a new male CEO.
  • A principal reason why there are so many more male CEOs than female ones is the incompatibility of family dynamics and the way the work world is structured in the U.S.
  • Men aren't more likely than women to be born with the qualities of a successful CEO, but the opportunities to develop those qualities are weighted toward men.
  • As the proportion of men to women in the C-suite becomes equal, women leaders should be less interesting, unique, and noteworthy — and therefore less subject to skepticism and negative reactions.

it is a shame that the positive aspects of Whitman's personal leadership brand such as 'Communication" are not valued more in these equations (but then how do you measure it??!!), especially as the nay-sayers are more focused on the challenges that the business faces (problems that were in place well before Whitman joined) rather than her ability to solve them. 

The recent firing of Carol Bartz at Yahoo only helps ingrain these negative perceptions. Short term expectation, pressure on profit figures and rapidly changing markets will likely not improve things for all CEO's (male and female) for the forseeable future. 

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