Assets, Liabilities, and Gender Equity How Gender and Economic Performance Affect CEO Communication

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Marisa Helf
Class of 2017


Men and women communicate differently. However, existing research has yet to examine if the stereotypical gender communication differences are evident in all groups and settings, in particular the case of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) when presenting financial results. The growing number of female CEOs in the business world creates the possibility of gender-related variation in the communication of financial results, and thus different interpretations of that information by users of financial reports.

This study synthesizes existing research on gender, CEO, oral, and financial communication to fill the gap in research and answer the question: do CEO gender and company economic performance affect how CEOs communicate financial results? Through text analysis of year-end earnings release press conferences and regression analysis of factors that influence measures of the attributes of communication, this study reveals male and female CEO communication patterns do not necessarily align with existing stereotypes. Results show clear differences as expected, unexpected differences, and several non-differences, illustrating that, as a whole, male and female CEO communication are surprisingly similar.

The similarities may be due to the individual personalities of CEOs, a function of a long-standing male dominated executive environment, or other factors not controlled for in the models used in this study. Either way, analysts and other financial statement users should refrain from over-interpreting CEO language on the basis of gender as gender and economic performance appear to have an overall trivial effect on the substance and style of CEO communication.

Comments from Mentors

“Marisa came to me early in her idea generation stage with an interesting dilemma.  She wanted to see if she could do her thesis at the intersection of three areas of interest – strategic communication, gender, and accounting.  On the surface that might have seemed a hard combination to find, but to both of our good fortunes, we came upon the idea of comparing the language use of male and female business executives when communicating financial information to investors.  It was an ambitious topic for an undergraduate thesis, but if you know Marisa, you know that she relishes a challenge.  

Throughout the process, her work ethic was exceptional.  Planning to graduate in December, she needed to complete her work in a shorter timeframe than other students.  She worked diligently, including a remarkably consistent effort while away from campus over the summer, meeting me weekly (via Skype in the summer and in person during the spring and fall) to discuss progress and next steps, and I was continually impressed by the quantity and quality of work she could accomplish in just a week.   

In the end, her work exceeded my expectations of what was possible given the challenges that she faced.  She did an excellent job of locating resources, educating herself about multiple new dimensions of the research process, and staying focused and organized.  

In the end she produced a high-quality piece of research about which she should be justifiably proud.  She tackled an issue of contemporary relevance in both the field of accounting and in gender studies and did so at a professional level.  It was truly my pleasure to work—and to learn—alongside her on this project.  I cannot wait to see the remaining trajectory of her career.”  

– Ray Pfeiffer


Article Details

Neeley School of Business