Sight unseen female leaders cause a negative market reaction – That’s unconscious bias.

A research paper from two professors at INSEAD, that cited multiple other studies was published in October but picked up by different mass media outlets this past week, (most of which require a subscription). The paper is called Women Don’t Mean Business? Gender Penalty in Board Composition. There have been studies in the past that showed that stock valuations decline with the presence of women leaders even when asset values remain constant or financials improve. The reason has always been the same — unconscious bias against women leaders. This study shed additional light on why there is bias against women leaders. Investors perceive male leaders to be focused on increasing shareholder value: a performance-orientation. They perceive women leaders as focusing on social issues. It’s a real-life scenario that supports research that shows that people view the qualities of male and female leaders as oppositional. What male leaders possess women leaders cannot. It’s pretty crazy, right? Thinking that female CEOs or board members do not and cannot focus on shareholder value? If they didn’t, predominantly male boards would never approve them. As board members their input would be ignored by the male board majority. That logic though is not interrupting unconscious bias against women leaders.

A study cited within this study pointed to something similar; a general response to the announcement of a female CEO is to decrement the market value of a firm. The authors call this response, anticipatory bias. Sight unseen the announcement of a female CEO causes a firm’s share price to decline.

Also, this past week, a study from Randstad Canada noted that 62 percent of women surveyed identified gender discrimination (unconscious bias) as influencing gender inequality in leadership. Just 41 percent of men, identified this, but men and women always disagree significantly on gender discrimination. When I read this, I thought that 100 percent of women and men would identify gender discrimination as a factor if they knew more about the different ways unconscious bias influences the advancement of women in the workplace. 

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