Women CEOs more empathic than male counterparts during pandemic, finds research

Research also finds only 5% of CEOs are female in S&P Broad Market Index

Women CEOs exhibited more emphatic, adaptable and accountable behaviour than their male counterparts during the pandemic, finds research from S&P Global on leadership and gender equity.  

So-called “sentiment analysis” of transcripts of earnings calls from the leaders of nearly 5,000 companies in the S&P Global Broad Market found that female CEOs had higher average scores for words expressing trust and anticipation than male CEOs. Male CEOs had higher scores for language in the categories of surprise, anger and sadness, according to the research. 

CEOs of both genders expressed negative sentiment such as “loss” and “challenge” at comparable frequency. The research also found women CEOs spoke more about clients, while men CEOs talked more about metrics.

Daniela Brandazza, Senior Director and Analytical Manager at S&P Global Ratings and a lead author of the report, said: “During the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global press hailed the performance of women leaders. New Zealand, South Korea and Germany were often mentioned as examples of nations, led by women, weathering the pandemic better than countries led by men, whose political style was perceived as fitting the stereotype of masculine leadership. Women in power, said the press stories, seemed to be more responsible, caring and prudent, while men were more willing to improvise, minimise the perils and make risky decisions. Those questions led to this paper.

“We concluded that women CEOs favored a leadership and communication style that emphasized flexibility and adaptability during a crisis period, enabling their connection with employees and other stakeholders. As our research shows, women CEOs may be leading the way in this regard, even if their relative numbers remain small.”

Women CEOs are still significantly underrepresented in the S&P Global Broad Market Index – accounting for 5% of CEOs in January 2021, compared with 4.9% roughly a year earlier, the research finds. 

The research, titled Leadership in Turbulent Times: Women CEOs during Covid-19, was done in collaboration with researchers from the University of Paris. 

It noted higher numbers of women CEOs in Norway (14%) and Singapore (12%), while Japan (0.8%) and Brazil (0%) had the lowest number of women in executive leadership roles. The real estate and healthcare sectors exhibited unusually high numbers of women at the helm, with women CEOs four times more likely to lead firms in those industries than in the energy sector. 

Countries with a higher share of women CEOs also tend to have more gender-balanced labour force participation.