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Does your voice make you a leader?

September 27, 2021, 10:20 AM UTC

Good morning,

Established perceptions of what it means to be a good leader may be perpetuating stereotypes and gender biases in the C-suite, new research finds.

A study published this month in the Journal of Management Studies proposes that board members at U.K. firms had a bias in favor of male CEOs with deep, “masculine” voices. “CEO vocal masculinity is likely to be important in shaping directors’ perceptions” as a good amount of contact takes place through conference calls and phone calls, the researchers from Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago, and NYU Langone Health noted. The study focused on the first three years of a CEO’s tenure to examine the effect of “vocal masculinity” on early-stage compensation.

The researchers used a method known as format dispersion to measure the pitch of voice recordings of CEOs at U.K. firms listed in the FTSE 100 index from 2004 to 2013. Their compensation was measured as well. “One standard deviation increase in CEO vocal masculinity is associated with a 6.6% increase in total pay,” according to the study. This indicates the effect of vocal masculinity on CEO compensation is “economically significant,” the authors noted. Their research pointed to the likelihood of firms operating in competitive industries having CEOs with “masculine voices.” They also found greater female representation on compensation committees reduces this bias.

For further insight on leadership perception, I had a conversation with Christopher Olivola, associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. Olivola coauthored a recent study published in The Leadership Quarterly that analyzes and predicts perceptions of leadership in an automated way. He and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania began with the concept that people have a collective understanding of traits associated with effective leadership. With machine learning techniques, the researchers used a Pantheon 1.0 data set of a large body of news articles about more than 6,600 famous individuals, including business leaders. Through word association, they determined which ones were widely seen as effective. Inspiring followed by bold, dedicated, enthusiastic, intellectual, and charismatic were the words most associated with effective leadership, the research found. 

But a supplementary finding was a systematic gender bias in leadership perceptions, Olivola says. “We see it reflected on our data set if you take a famous woman and a famous man during the same era, on average, our model predicts the female will be perceived, subjectively, to be less leader-like than the male,” he says. “If it’s harder for women to become leaders because there’s a bias working against them, then you’re going end up with fewer female leaders.” And in turn, people are not going to perceive women as having leadership qualities, he says. 

In corporate environments, in addition to gender biases, perceptions of effective leadership can have wide-reaching effects in areas including recruitment and retainment, Olivola says. “If you perceive your existing manager as being incompetent or not a good leader, you’re less likely to stick around,” he says. “But conversely, if the general public perception of a CEO is negative, that could make it harder to recruit people in the first place.”

Olivola hopes the model that he and his fellow researchers devised can help practitioners and advisors to better monitor how their leaders are perceived. Understanding the perceptions may help contribute to effective leadership, he says.


See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

Big deal

A combination of a slowdown in economic growth in the U.S., and an expected rise in borrowing costs, may create vulnerability for companies that "gorged on debt " amid the pandemic, according to a report by S&P Global Market Intelligence released on September 23. Last year, companies issued debt to cover lost revenues. And this year, they're taking advantage of low borrowing costs to refinance debt and push back maturities. S&P Global Ratings' research determined that "non-financial corporations reduced the amount of debt maturing over the 18-month period, from July 2021 to the end of 2022, by 21% to $779 billion," according to the report. However, "kicking the can down the road" means companies create the risk of increasing the amount of non-financial rated debt quickly. This increase will be from $570.0 billion in 2022 to a peak of $968.5 billion in 2025, Ratings estimated. 

Courtesy of S&P Global Market Intelligence

 

Going deeper

Remote work continues at many U.S. companies as employers have delayed plans to reopen this fall. But employees remain uncertain of a reopening timeframe. A report released this month by Zillow, an online real estate marketplace company, found that 39% of workers surveyed still don't know if or how often they'll be working in person. And 35% said that uncertainty is impacting decisions such as whether they'll move to another location. About 84% of workers desire remote work at least a few days a month, and 44% want to work from home permanently, Zillow found. The data is based on a survey of 993 U.S. workers. 

Leaderboard

Tiziana Figliolia was named CFO at Hootsuite, a social media management platform. Most recently, Figliolia was VP of finance at InterDigital Inc. She previously spent 10 years in Shanghai with two multinational software companies. At PTC Inc., she was SVP of global business operations. And at Autodesk, she held various senior leadership roles.

Hannibal L. Brumskine II was named VP and CFO of The Executive Leadership Council (ELC). Before joining the ELC, Brumskine was CFO for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. His executive experience includes chief financial and operations officer for the National Credit Union Foundation and director of global treasury/controller at PACT Inc., an international development organization and USAID implementing partner.

Overheard

"Consumer demand for Nike remains at an all time high and we are confident that our deep consumer connections and brand momentum will continue. However, we are not immune to the global supply chain headwinds that are challenging the manufacturer and movement of product around the world."

—Matt Friend, EVP and CFO at Nike, said during the company's earnings call on September 23. 

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