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Women CEOs Model a Diverse Future

Women’s leadership styles position them well to guide organizations through the profound transformations ahead.

Daniela Brandazza
Senior Director
S&P Global Ratings

Dr. Gabriel Morin
Master 2 International Human Resources Management, Paris,
Université Paris Panthéon-Assas

Published: January 13, 2023


Women are still significantly underrepresented as CEOs globally, with a 5.4% share as of March 31, 2022, among the 8,000 companies on the S&P Global Broad Market Index (BMI), covering corporations with the largest global market capitalization. Women CEO representation is very uneven across industries and geographies. The participation of women on corporate boards is much higher, with an average of 24% across industries.

Women CEOs display more diversity, empathy and adaptability in their leadership styles, consistent with emerging theories around authentic leadership, according to sentiment and natural language processing analysis conducted on earnings call transcripts of leaders at over 5,801 companies in the BMI.

For the past two years, women CEOs have exhibited a more positive communication style and embraced a large range of stakeholders, an approach that could help companies attract diverse talent and prosper.

The gender gap between women and men CEOs worldwide remains extremely wide nearly three years since the pandemic started, even though both are just as effective at delivering financial performance. In some respects, leadership styles adopted by women CEOs during this uncertain time — embracing diversity, empathy and adaptability — position them well to lead organizations and will resonate with diverse publics through the profound transformations ahead.

Our research confirms that women CEOs exhibited a more positive communication style from the peak of the pandemic, in early 2021, to the first quarter of 2022. This is based on sentiment analyses of earnings call transcripts of 6,831 CEOs at companies on the S&P Global Broad Market Index, covering corporations with the largest global market capitalization in 65 countries. We note a shift in the top three most favored styles used by women CEOs to ones categorized as diversity, empathy and adaptability. Ranking fourth was a transformative style addressing the need to respond to long-lasting changes stemming from the pandemic, such as adjustments to consumer behavior and to the workplace. Men CEOs focused more on words related to transaction as well as growth and performance during the period surveyed. 

Chart 1

By 2022, diversity topped empathy and adaptability as the most important trait of women CEOs’ leadership style.

Women CEOs remain underrepresented, accounting for only 5.4% of all CEOs at these largest 8,000 companies globally. Even in unprecedented circumstances, women corporate leaders made some inroads over the past year, with the real estate and healthcare sectors leading the way and the energy sector lagging. Our research also shows huge differences among the 65 countries studied, ranging from zero women CEOs in Qatar and Mexico to over 12% in Norway, the Philippines and New Zealand. This remains much lower than the participation of women on corporate boards, which averages 24% across industries.

Women’s Leadership Styles Tend To Benefit a Broader Range of Stakeholders

Using advanced techniques in natural language processing, our research aims to shed light on communication styles that women CEOs used during the early and later pandemic periods. Our latest data indicate that the type of positive communication style favored by women CEOs and their focus on diversity seems more aligned with the emerging theory of authentic leadership, which draws from and mirrors the diversity of society. Our 2022 research, which revisits a similar 2021 study, confirms, with one more year of data, that the communication characteristics of women CEOs point to a different leadership style than that practiced by their male counterparts.

The leadership women CEOs exemplify in this report falls into the category of authentic leadership, according to our review of the literature. It is a more inclusive style that promotes team diversity. That said, some of these characteristics can enhance the typical ways men lead by making their approach more comprehensive and sustainable. Women’s leadership style tends to benefit a broader range of stakeholders within and outside companies customers, suppliers and community.

The future of leadership lies in embracing better leadership theories, and authentic leadership is among the emerging leadership theories that form this new paradigm. This research aims to contribute to a better understanding of women leaders as role models in businesses around the world. It also intends to shed light on emerging leadership styles during this time of economic uncertainty and workplace transformation. We believe these data and insights can contribute to an open and honest conversation about leadership styles that has the potential to create a more equitable, productive and sustainable future.

Learn more

Women CEOs: Leadership for a Diverse Future
Leadership in Turbulent Times: Women CEOs During COVID-19
Something’s Gotta Give

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This article was authored by a cross-section of representatives from S&P Global and in certain circumstances external guest authors. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities they represent and are not necessarily reflected in the products and services those entities offer. This research is a publication of S&P Global and does not comment on current or future credit ratings or credit rating methodologies.