Women lag behind men in seeking to become CEOs


Research released today from leading global public relations firm Weber Shandwick found that relatively few global senior executives – 29% – have the desire to lead large companies.

Women executives with an interest in the CEO position are especially in short supply, as they are significantly less likely than their male peers to want to be chief executive one day (23% vs. 32%, respectively).

Yet when female executives work for a female CEO, women’s interest climbs to 29%. While these results do not reflect numbers anywhere near gender equality, they indicate the important role today’s female CEOs play in breaking the glass ceiling for the next generation.

“Our research indicates that when women work for female CEOs, they are more motivated to strive to be corporate leaders themselves,” says Gail Heimann, president of Weber Shandwick. “These results lead to the undeniable conclusion that if we really want gender equality at the top, we must promote more women into CEO positions and do it now.”

The Female CEO Reputation Premium? Differences & Similarities, is a supplemental report to The CEO Reputation Premium: Gaining Advantage in the Engagement Era, conducted by Weber Shandwick with KRC Research and released in March 2015. The study is based on an online survey of more than 1,750 senior executives across 19 countries in North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. In this new installment, we provide insights into how male and female CEOs are perceived by the executives who work for them.

The Reputational Influence of Women CEOs

Our main study proved that CEO reputation matters to an organisation’s success and is one of its most valuable and competitive assets. The contributions of CEO reputation to both the company’s reputation and its market value are virtually identical for both male and female CEOs.

The reputation premium delivered by women CEOs is the positive impact on women in the leadership pipeline who are significantly more likely than male executives to say that their CEOs’ reputations influence them to remain at their companies. CEO reputation influences women even more to stay at their jobs when their CEO is a woman. CEO gender plays no such remarkable role in male executives’ decision to remain at their companies.

The CEO Reputation Influence

Male Executives    Female Executives    Female Executives Who Have a Female CEO
The reputation of CEO influences decision to remain at company    54%    64%    70%

“We were pleased to learn from our research that when it comes to the reputation of a company and its market value, CEO gender does not matter,” says Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick. “Where CEO gender does count is in the war for female talent at the top which is no small matter. Having more highly regarded female CEOs at the top helps to retain women at their companies.”

The Important Role of Role-Models

It is a widely-held opinion by both genders of executives in our study that it is important for the universe of women CEOs to grow, agreed upon by approximately seven in 10 (69%) survey respondents. Not surprisingly, women are significantly more likely than men to have this conviction (84% vs. 60%, respectively).

The leading justification for increasing the number of female CEOs, according to both male (50%) and female (58%) executives in our study, is to create more female role models and mentors. Mentoring is increasingly understood as a reliable means of helping women obtain higher positions and a growing diversity initiative in many corporations.

Regional Differences in CEO Aspirations

When it comes to aspiring to be CEO, there are extreme differences across regions. North American women executives are resoundingly disinterested in the CEO job, with the majority – 68% – dismissing the idea altogether. European women are also more likely to say “no” than “yes” (39% and 22%, respectively), but are less adamant than North American women. Asia Pacific women are divided, with half of them (51%) coming in with a “maybe.” As for Latin America, the sample of female executives is too small to be statistically valid, but directionally speaking, they have the highest rate of interest in the CEO job (34%).

Who Wants to be a CEO?

Would you personally ever want to be CEO of a large company?    North American Executives    European Executives    Asia Pacific Executives    Latin American# Executives
Male    Female    Male    Female    Male    Female    Male    Female*
%    %    %    %    %    %    %    %
Yes    22    9    25    22    37    27    46    34
No    51    68    39    39    23    22    11    17
Maybe    27    23    37    39    40    51    43    49
#Latin American is represented by Brazil
*Small sample size
Bold indicates significant difference between male and female executives
Percentages may not add to 100% because of decimal rounding

Fulfilling the Female CEO Reputation Premium

Knowing that being a CEO one day is not on the wish list for many women in business, companies need to take further steps to encourage and develop them if they want to fully benefit from their contributions and to ensure a talented pipeline of business leaders. Weber Shandwick is committed to an ongoing examination of CEO leadership, including the C-Suite gender issue. Our Executive Equity and Engagement services help CEOs and aspiring executive women amplify their voices and raise their visibility at executive conferences and forums and across other multi-channels. We help them build the equity in their brands that might one day lead them into the corner office as well as inspire the next generation of women CEOs.

Click here to view The Female CEO Reputation Premium? Similarities & Differences report.

About The Research

Results are based on an online survey of more than 1,750 executives – managers through the C-Suite, but excluding CEOs – conducted in 2014. Respondents worked in companies with revenues of $500 million or more (or regional equivalents) and represented 19 countries across North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. The margin of error for the full global sample is ±2 percentage points with 90% confidence. Globally, male executives represent 62% of the sample and female executives 38% of the sample. Proportions vary by market.