Female CEOs face more aggressive questioning from male analysts, research finds

Apr 05, 2022
University of Exeter Business School analysis uncovers gender bias in US company conference calls

When male analysts question female CEOs they are 7.9 percentage points ‘more aggressive’ than when questioning male CEOs. That’s according to researchers from the University of Exeter Business School, who analyzed recordings of 39,209 earnings conference calls with US firms over a 13-year period to 2018.

The researchers behind the study, titled The role of gender in the aggressive questioning of CEOs during earnings conference calls, also say male analysts’ questions are more aggressive than those of female analysts by a score of 10 percentage points.

The study assesses ‘verbal aggressiveness’ through the following four measures:

  • The frequency of follow-up questions, which imply that the questioner does not accept the initial response
  • The use of preface statements, which allow the questioner to introduce a new context, paving the way for a more challenging question
  • The number of direct questions used (questions that do not start with phrases such as ‘can I,’ ‘could I’ or ‘will you,’ which are considered deferential)
  • Aggressive questions that are close to assertions beginning with phrases such as ‘isn’t it’ or ‘aren’t you.’

When it comes to female analysts, the researchers find that a more aggressive approach to questioning is good for career advancement. ‘Female analysts who ask aggressive questions [are] more likely to be selected as a top-three analyst on Institutional Investor’s annual list of best analysts,’ the report authors write in an announcement of the results.

More than nine in 10 CEOs (92 percent) and 88 percent of analysts included in the study are male.

The researchers also note that previous studies on gender bias and analyst interactions have found that male analysts make lower earnings forecasts for firms with female CEOs and that women are perceived as less knowledgeable than men.

‘Differences in male and female linguistic styles have potential implications for who gets credit for work and for judgments of confidence and competence,’ Dr Sebastian Tideman, a lecturer in finance and accounting at the University of Exeter Business School and co-author of the study, says in the announcement.


Dr Sebastian Tideman

‘Linguistic styles also affect how men and women are viewed in the power hierarchy and how criticism is perceived. Given our findings, sell-side firms might want to ensure their managers are aware of the differences between the linguistic styles of men and women.’

Tideman adds that ‘differences in male and female linguistic styles could [also] be considered by voters for Institutional Investor’s All-America analyst awards.’

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