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The Essential Podcast, Episode 53: On the Glass Cliff – Women CEO's During the Pandemic

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Listen: The Essential Podcast, Episode 53: On the Glass Cliff – Women CEO's During the Pandemic

About this Episode

Gabriel Morin of Paris University 2 and Daniela Brandazza of S&P Global join the Essential Podcast to talk about joint research into the differences between male and female CEO communication styles during the early months of the pandemic.

The Essential Podcast from S&P Global is dedicated to sharing essential intelligence with those working in and affected by financial markets. Host Nathan Hunt focuses on those issues of immediate importance to global financial markets—macroeconomic trends, the credit cycle, climate risk, ESG, global trade, and more—in interviews with subject matter experts from around the world.

Listen and subscribe to this podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and Deezer.

Show Notes

  • S&P Global partnered with Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas University to research how women CEOs exhibited a different leadership style than men during the COVID-19 crisis. Read the full report here

The Essential Podcast is edited and produced by Kurt Burger.

Nathan Hunt: This is The Essential Podcast from S&P Global. My name is Nathan Hunt. As the coronavirus pandemic enters its third year, we should take a moment to think about what has worked and what hasn't, in terms of corporate leadership. Styles have varied from corporate leaders. But looking back over time, we begin to notice some patterns. One of the patterns that has emerged concerns the different leadership styles of male and female CEOs, particularly during the early months of the crisis, S&P global worked with re searchers from Paris university too, to look at the different styles of leadership and their relationship to performance. I am joined today by two of the people who led this effort.

Gabriel Morin: My name is Gabriel Morin, or Morin in French. I'm professor in leadership development. I work for the university of Paris, Pantheon-Assas, so located as it sounds, in Paris. And one of my specialty also is to be one of the only one researcher in Europe to work with armed forces, British army and the French army.

Daniela Brandazza: I'm Daniela Brandazza, senior director, analytical manager in S&P Global ratings, heading the Canadian team following Banks, Sovereign and International Public Finance Credits. And I'm also the president of WINS Global Board, the women's organization at S&P Global.

Nathan Hunt: It's been a few months since this article first appeared. I'd like to start by understanding your methodology. You say that women CEOs demonstrated a different leadership style during the pandemic. How were you able to determine that?

Daniela Brandazza: Sure, I can start and Gabriel could add. Basically, we capture CEO communication styles during the COVID-19 crisis using natural language processing. And this help us to understand the different communication styles. We collected and analyzed analytical transcripts from almost 5000 companies from January, 2019 to December, 2020. And we used advanced techniques in natural language processing to compensate for the differences that we find in the dataset. As you can imagine, men CEOs are much more than female CEOs.

And so we did a thorough analysis of those transcripts and we also aim to identify and compare overall sentiment, positive or negative, as well as the emotions as such as anger, fear, anticipation, trust, joy, surprise, et cetera, through the dataset that we had. We really had a very rich dataset from the S&P BMI and we collected and analyzed data from over 60 countries, which give us a broader view of these different communication styles and leadership styles during the pandemic.

Nathan Hunt: So based on that sentiment analysis, what were the characteristics of female CEOs as opposed to male CEOs?

Daniela Brandazza: Sure. This is very interesting because during the pandemic, female CEOs show a much more positive communication style through the words they choose through the most difficult times of the crisis, while male CEOs didn't use it as much. So in terms of frequency of communicating positively here, we really found all this is data driven, as I mentioned at the beginning, that in terms of comparing the sentiments, positive and negative, yes, definitely women did more use of these words, creating a positive communication, a communication style that at the peak of the pandemic, in terms of the average words use, this course were higher for women, as well as other characteristics that represented trust or created more trust that their main colleagues. This is particularly important because during the first quarter and the second quarter where the crisis was at peaks, this characteristic and the gap that we saw in the data between male and women CEOs definitely confirmed these more positive sentiments.

Nathan Hunt: Beyond positivity, what kind of specific words or sentiments were women more likely to express than men?

Daniela Brandazza: Well, in terms... When we speak about positivity, it's words really related to growth and focus also on customers, there are some words that are more frequently used by women in terms of continuity, words that are good or expectation or kind or yes, customer focus, which are again, the gap that we see in the data is meaningful in that sense, that women predominantly created a communication style through the use of these words that lean toward adaptability and accountability, diversity and all that create that positivity that we mentioned at the beginning,

Nathan Hunt: Gabriel, your academic research is focused on leadership styles. Would you expect to see similar differences between men and women leaders in "normal times?" Do you think the crisis brought on by the pandemic just brought out these differences into sharper relief?

Gabriel Morin: The thing is research on that is quite ambivalent. So on one side you have research showing that there is different men leadership and of course different from women leadership. And on the other hand, you've got other research showing the opposite. So I think before, let's say, leading this research, we were very curious about what the result of our research would be. And the thing is the confirmation of this specificity of women leadership is something very interesting, I think, and is something that research has always already let's say shown in the past for, in some research, once again.

Nathan Hunt: Did the differences you were seeing in male versus female leadership styles change over the period of time that you observed, after all this pandemic has been marked by a series of waves that have marked periods of greater upheaval and loss, was that reflected in the communication styles you were seeing?

Daniela Brandazza: It's interesting to see that as the crisis develop, it was very interesting, one of the aspects that we observed from the data, which is the creation of trust through communication, where women show a higher creation of trust at the beginning in the first quarters, but at the end of 2020, there is a convergence in the communication, a style to create trust with their male colleagues. So in other words, yes, things the styles may have adjusted and it will be interesting to see in normal times if the differences remain or if they converge. But in terms of communication style, especially on the creation of trust, there is a conversion at the end of 2020.

Nathan Hunt: Question for both of you, in the article, are you making a value judgment about these differences in leadership styles? Is a woman's leadership style better? Is it more profitable for the company? Did you see any correlations there?

Daniela Brandazza: Maybe I will start with, if we are speaking specifically about the company's total returns performance, that was one of the aspects we analyzed, we find that CEO gender doesn't explain it, when we look at performance. During the crisis, economic sectors, geographic location, best explain company's performance and even other aspects, depending on the companies, which... it could be the experience of the CEO in the role, among other things. So I guess that based on the data we analyze, if we look at performance again, gender doesn't explain it. There are other factors that play a bigger role here.

Nathan Hunt: Gabriel, I'd like to follow up on that question with you. Words like positivity and trust are typically things we would like to have associated with our leadership style. Do you make a value judgment in differentiating these leadership styles? Are you asserting that women's leadership style may have been superior during the acute phase of the crisis?

Gabriel Morin: I would not say superior but what we can say here is that the most skilled in cooperation and collaboration are the woman CEOs suggested by the result of a research can match the main skills of a new millennium. And I think this fact can also inspire men CEOs. And I think here, it can be very interesting because we can break the black or white vision of leadership, male versus female. We cannot like a mix of skills of men and women and have something in a way more diverse. So I think on this way, it's very interesting. And that's why also in the first place, we wanted to explore the leadership through the role of women CEOs and not only representation of women inside the board or inside leadership position. Here for me and for us women, as the CEO in a way was different in the way they were able to communicate and to be a leader with their own leadership skills.

Nathan Hunt: Women are under represented in the Csuite, particularly in the top job. Was it difficult to find enough earnings call transcripts from women CEOs in order to perform this analysis?

Daniela Brandazza: Yes, definitely that women CEOs are significantly underrepresented, not only in our database, but in general. Especially if you consider that women at companies in the S&P Global BMI accounted only for 5% of CEOs in January, 2021 and that number was better than the 2020 figures, but just for a... I think that it was around 4.9%. So around 5% of our database, we found as women CEOs versus overwhelmingly 95% as male peers.

So again, there is a long way to go still to give more space to women leading companies. And I would like to also point out something that Gabriel mentioned and which we pay attention in our research, which is the communication style through the language these women use during a crisis, which it was empathy, adaptability, accountability, diversity. And I guess that this difference with their male peers that were more focused at the beginning of the crisis on transaction related words mostly related to profit or growth aspects that I guess that understanding these differences is where we could maybe, enrich the dialogue and learn more and work better in our teams, understanding the different leadership styles and communication, we can maybe target for solving problems together in more efficient and thinking more in the people that we have in our teams.

So during this crisis, we really learn through the data, that there are differences in which women seems to be ahead of understanding how to behave during the crisis. And also with customers, there was, particularly in one of the data we analyze, how women were focusing in understanding customers ahead of time and anticipating to some situations. So that also is something that it was worth well to learn and consider for the future.

Nathan Hunt: Female leadership in politics, in government, has been remarked upon throughout the pandemic, I'm thinking specifically of the past leader of Germany, Angela Merkel, the current leader of New Zealand, being particularly noteworthy for their consistency, their decisiveness, and their popularity. Did you see anything in your analysis of female CEOs that you think might also apply to female heads of state? Something that might point to the reasons for their relative success?

Daniela Brandazza: I will say two things, Nathan. One was the creation of trust from the beginning and anticipation during the crisis, I think that that planning created the trust and probably the success that they had at the beginning. And so that was also seen in the female CEOs that we analyze here in the communication style that we saw in our data set. So I think that yes, that there are two really important aspects in our sentiment and emotion analysis that we did that somehow reflects what we saw with these leaders, these political leaders.

Nathan Hunt: Gabriel, what has the historical research and literature on female leadership indicated? Are your conclusions on different leadership styles consistent with past research?

Gabriel Morin: First of all, I would like to say that according to research, precisely we can apply the same, let's say conclusion of the research to different women leader. So yes, as Daniela said. But no, because it's a different context in politics. And research and leadership shows that leadership is a process based on three key pillars, a leader, a follower, and a context. And if you change the context, you change the leadership and here, obviously corporate context is not national or politics context. Second thing, I just want to add also regarding the under representation of women, that not far from us, in 2009, there has been made same research in a way about fortune 500 company.

And at this time the women CEO account for only 2% of fortune 500. In 11 years, from 2% now globally, we reach 5% so the way is still very important to go. Anyway, so regarding the research, what we can say is that during a long period of time, what we have as a [inaudible 00:18:21] is what we call, it's a researcher called Schein, saying that think-manager, think-male. It means that during a while management and after all, leadership was really understood as a typical male skills. So over research, qualified, let's say ground of the process of... for a woman to become leader labyrinth. And that's also part of a concept, and on this, you get robust research showing that.

And it's only on the new paradigm of leadership research I belong to, but now, more attention is paid to all, let's say diversity leadership and especially female leadership, women leadership. So for me, that's a key point, to be part of this new, let's say, stream of research, it based on one key part.

All the studies showing that the more diverse your team is the more performant and successful you will be. Because also research showed in the past that, I mean, there is a number of reasoned, but the reason is also because in a team, a very diverse team, you feel less comfortable. When you feel less comfortable. You try to improve and to go beyond, let's say, your potential. On the opposite side, homogenous teams feel easier so too easy and as a result, it's not good for performance. So I think that is very important also to say here that this trend is, let's say matches with all the research showing that diversity is a key part of the performance for a company and for a team.

Nathan Hunt: Daniela and Gabriel, one final question. Once you had finished this research and completed the article, did you feel there were unanswered questions that you'd like to revisit in for research?

Daniela Brandazza: Well, maybe I kind of start and Gabriel for sure will have more to say on this. It will be interesting to follow up the analysis, especially to see our data base again, under more normal times and see if the communication style varies or there are gaps between male and female and the way they create trust or the way they maintain anticipation or positive or negative sentiments, as we saw during the crisis. That's a question that still, it will be very interesting to follow up and see what the data says. The other thing is probably it's more of a continuous conversation that we need to have is why this is important to keep analyzing and understanding, especially because in terms of the differences in leadership, there is much more to learn. And what really matters more than gender is this mix of both experiences, views, and how we can create better environments to work in the corporate world.

So I guess that for the future of work, considering knowing more, the different leadership styles that a women leader brings, could make a difference and could add to, not only to the performance, which it's not determined by gender, but all the aspects that are very important in today's business world, and emphasizing this idea of creation of value in society and the economy, instead of only focusing on value creation through primary for shareholders. So this broader view is in short, what we think that we saw in the dataset during the crisis where women show these more empathic, adaptable, accountable, and diverse communication style during the crisis, which is worthwhile to keep digging during more normal times.

Nathan Hunt: Gabriel, anything you would add? Any other areas of research that you would like to pursue coming out of this study?

Gabriel Morin: Yeah, of course, I think there is a lot of things to explore and I think it's only the beginning of all this research and that is very exciting by the way. In the first place, I would like to say that it'll be very interesting to measure all this, the change in a more normal period, meaning not in the crisis of pandemic and COVID 19. Because there is also another effect called glass cliff, which is the fact that during crisis, usually you have more women nominated as a leadership role. And that's also part of a vicious circle for women, because as it's more tricky, it's more complex. And then in the second place, it can convince the organization than to go back to before and to have only men appointed as leaders. So that's part of the other concept called glass ceiling.

So I think it'll be interesting to measure after this crisis, if these 5% will change or not. And as a man, I will say that quarter policy was a first step, but I think if really want to go beyond that and we need to go beyond that now and to do really a breakthrough and change transformation. We need now, I think, to have women as role model. And that's why once again, to explore women as a CEO is much more important and I think, much more inspiring for young women and by the way, for also young men. So I think to match with what Daniela said, what is interesting now is to go in a more diverse and to open new doors for leadership style, with what would be like a combination of feminine and masculine characteristics,

Nathan Hunt: Daniela and Gabriel, I want to thank you for joining me on the podcast today, and I very much look forward to having you both rejoin me to talk about the next stage of this research. (singing)Thank you.

Gabriel Morin: Thank you, Nathan.

Daniela Brandazza: Thank you, Nathan.

Nathan Hunt: The Essential Podcast is produced by Kurt Berger, with assistance from Kyle May and Camille McManus. At S&P Global, we accelerate progress in the world by providing intelligence that is essential for companies, governments, and individuals to make decisions with conviction. From the Majestic Heights of 55 Water Street in Manhattan, I am Nathan Hunt. Thank you for listening.