CEO Gender and Corporate Board Structures

Melissa B. Frye is an Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Central Florida and Duong T. Pham is an Assistant Professor of Finance at Georgia Southern University. This post is based on a recent article by Professor Frye and Professor Pham, forthcoming in the Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance.

In our article, CEO Gender and Corporate Board Structure (forthcoming in the Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance), we investigate the relationship between the gender of the CEO and corporate board structures. In recent years, women have made strides in cracking the glass ceiling in leadership positions in corporate America. Female CEOs have been appointed not only in female-friendly industries such as healthcare and consumer products but also in fields that are traditionally dominated by their male counterparts such as energy, utilities or automotive. The number of female CEOs leading S&P 500 companies reached a record high in 2016 with 27 women at the helm of these firms. However, women CEOs only make up 5.4% of the total S&P 500 CEO positions.

A growing body of academic research in finance shows that gender matters in terms of value enhancing decision making. Studies have documented that male executives carry out more acquisitions and issue more debt than their female counterparts, consistent with men being more overconfident than women and less effective corporate decision makers. Research has also shown that firms run by female CEOs have lower leverage, less volatile earnings, and a higher chance of survival than male CEO firms.

Since corporate governance helps mitigate agency conflicts between managers and shareholders of the firm, a good governance system is believed to enhance firm value. In our study, we focus on what is viewed as the most important governance mechanism for shareholders. The board of directors are trusted with monitoring and advising the firm’s management and protecting shareholders’ interests. While the literature has explored mechanisms that are associated with effective governance, the question of whether behavioral differences, associated with the gender of the CEO, play a role in shaping monitoring structures has not been addressed. Thus, we examine whether the “woman effect” in corporate decisions and performance extends to board structures. Essentially, we explore whether behavioral differences between men and women may lead to different board structures.

Whether female CEOs are associated with boards structured for more or less monitoring is an empirical question. To explore this, we consider three hypotheses based on documented behavioral differences between males and females. First, female CEOs may establish boards with greater monitoring. The channel between more board monitoring and gender comes from the literature on negotiations, overconfidence, and stereotyping. Several prior studies report that women perform worse than men at the negotiation table. Basic agency theory would suggest that all CEOs prefer less monitoring. Thus, if females are less savvy negotiators, they may not bargain as effectively with respect to board structure. Likewise, differences in overconfidence may lead to greater board monitoring. A male CEO may overestimate his ability and underestimate the role of board monitoring, thus he may seek to reduce board monitoring relative to a less overconfident female CEO. Stereotyping and/or discrimination on the part of the board may motivate directors to force stricter monitoring on a female CEO. Second, we consider that gender-based differences may lead to less monitoring of female CEOs. The conduit for less board monitoring for female CEOs comes from the perception that women leaders would simply need less monitoring. The overconfidence theory may suggest that boards would be less inclined to intensely monitor female CEOs, since women leaders may make better decisions. Third, it is also possible that male and female CEOs will not differ in terms of board structures. Essentially, females that make it to the top of a publicly traded firm may exhibit very similar behavioral characteristics as their male counterparts.

Using a sample of publicly traded firms in the U.S., we focus specifically on board characteristics that alter the efficiency of the monitoring of the board and are also influenced by the CEO. To capture monitoring intensity we use board size, board independence, the ratio of inside to outside directors, the gender diversity of the board, the board network, director age, interlocking directors, board attendance, and an aggregate board monitoring measure. We find that female CEOs are associated with boards of directors that are smaller, consist of more independent directors, have a lower ratio of inside to outside directors, are more gender diversified, have a broader director network, are composed of younger directors and are in general structured for more intense monitoring of the CEOs relative to the industry median, consistent with our first hypothesis.

In general, we provide strong evidence that female CEOs are associated with boards of directors that are significantly different in structure from their male counterparts. Our results are consistent with gender-based behavioral differences in negotiation, overconfidence, and/or discrimination leading to greater board monitoring at female-led firms. Prior literature shows that better governance is viewed positively by the market and leads to better performance. Activists and regulators also put significant weight on effective monitoring. In light of this, our study supports the push to increase the number of women leaders. Our findings suggest female CEOs welcome board monitoring and stronger governance structures.

The complete article is available for download here.

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