Why female CEOs don't stay in post as long as men

Why female CEOs don’t stay in post as long as men

There is no question that career advancement in the corporate environment can be very difficult for women. Why, then, don’t women who successfully reached the peak stay for too long? 

Elephant in the room: why are there too few female CEOs?

In 2023, a mere 5.4% of all the world’s chief executives were women. That’s a bigger percentage than all the CEOs named John, but a far cry from the large fraction of male executives. In countries where women are well-educated and have more opportunities to rise to the top, this comes off as rather strange. 

While many would cite hurdles such as extended career breaks, gender biases and gender pay gaps, the explanation may be simpler. CEOs are often appointed based on tenure and experience, and this requires climbing up the C-suite or getting a spot on the company’s board – both dominated by men. 

In other words, for most companies, there is a very small pool of female candidates for the CEO post. Capable women will have to wait their turn in a long line of equally capable men, and often, they end up handing over their posts to men when they retire.

The whys behind the short female CEO tenure

Now, let’s go back to our original question: why don’t women last out in the CEO post? It’s easy to think of many factors given the difficulties women face in the corporate workplace, but the answer appears to boil down to the following:

  1. The glass cliff. When a board appoints a woman as a CEO, it can be seen to some as an indication that the company is looking for a drastic change – a sign that the company may not be doing well. In such predicaments, the female CEO is subjected to great pressure and may need to step down earlier than they should. 
  1. Hedge fund activism. Sometimes, in publicly traded companies, hedge fund activists may buy a minority stake to enact certain changes, including replacing the current chief. A report in the Journal of Financial Economics states that recent trends suggest that these activists are increasingly targeting companies with female CEOs, resulting in undue pressures that lead to these chief execs’ early retirements. 
  1. Persistent gender bias. According to a study by Pennsylvania State University, male-dominated organisations tend to scrutinise female CEOs more closely, especially after they are appointed with great fanfare. The celebration often leaves them vulnerable to unwarranted attention and stereotypes that add pressure to their already difficult role. 
  1. Increasingly heavy workloads. Many often overlook the fact that CEOs today have more on their plate than their counterparts decades ago, to the point that the role itself has become an occupational hazard. This applies to both men and women, and it’s not hard to see anyone caving in on the stress.

Conclusion

While women are making strides towards CEO positions, their tenure is concerningly short. This can be attributed to a limited pool of female candidates, pressure-filled situations like the “glass cliff”, and persistent gender bias. Building a stronger talent pipeline, redefining leadership qualities, and promoting work-life balance can empower women to reach the top and ensure they have the support to stay there.

About Sam P

EnterpriseZone Staff Writer

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