Fast Company: Is the media partly to blame for the CEO gender gap?

By: Jared Lindzon

The CEO gender gap is very gradually closing at major public companies, but the way in which the media covers female CEOs may not help speed it up.

According to a recent study by the Rockefeller Foundation, articles about female CEOs are more likely to mention gender, discuss their personal life, and place the brunt of the blame on them during times of crises.

49% of articles written about female CEOs mention gender, compared with only 4% of articles written about male CEOs.

The small study analyzed 100 news articles from 37 top-tier media outlets that covered 20 Fortune 1000 and major tech company CEOs. The reporting on these executives was observed in four scenarios: when they were hired, stepped down, retired, or were involved in a crisis. The study also utilized IBM Watson’s tone analyzer to measure the differences in language used when describing CEOs of different genders.

According to the report, 16% of the articles that covered female CEOs mentioned their personal life and discussed their family 78% of the time. When male CEOs are in the news, however, only 8% of the coverage mentions their personal life, and none discuss their children or family. The focus instead was on their background, retirement plans, or social life. Furthermore, 49% of articles written about female CEOs mention gender, compared with only 4% of articles written about male CEOs.

Although it was a small sample of media coverage, the findings are significant, because the way in which CEOs are covered often has a direct impact on their success in office. A recent study by the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University found that female CEOs are more likely to be targeted by shareholder activism, which the study’s authors believe is directly impacted by the way in which they’re covered in the media.

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