Women CEOs are much more likely than male CEOs to be dismissed, even when the women are performing well, according to new research from the University of Alabama.

The findings, detailed in You’re Fired! Gender Disparities in CEO Dismissal, show that female CEOs are about 45% more likely than male CEOs to be dismissed from their firms.

Also, while performance improvements protect male CEOs from dismissal, they do not protect female CEOs, according to the study of public firms in the United States.

“Dismissing the CEO is usually viewed as evidence of good corporate governance as it suggests that the board is taking its monitoring role seriously,” said study co-author Sandra Mortal in a statement. Mortal is associate professor at the University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Business.

“However, our research reveals there are invisible, but serious, gender biases in how the board evaluates CEOs and its decision to retain or fire particular CEOs.”

The research did not examine whether the boards are aware of their biases in dismissing women CEOs.

Along with Mortal, co-authors were Vishal Gupta (University of Alabama), Minxing Sun (Clemson University), Sabatino Silveri (University of Memphis), and Daniel Turban (University of Missouri).

Study Design

Gupta said the research was prompted by concerns about the higher incidence of dismissals among women CEOs compared to men raised by consulting firms and the popular and business press.

The results of this study point to the extra pressure and scrutiny directed at women in senior leadership positions.
The researchers wanted to determine through statistical research and econometric tools if dismissals are indeed more common among women CEOs, he said.

The study relied on press coding of news releases and media accounts of CEO departures, along with data on CEO age and continued affiliation with the firm, to determine whether a particular CEO left voluntarily.

They merged the CEO data with large-scale databases such as ExecuComp and BoardEx. The sample covers large, publicly traded firms between 2000 and 2014.

“The results of this study point to the extra pressure and scrutiny directed at women in senior leadership positions relative to their male counterparts,” Gupta said.

“This is problematic because women face difficult barriers and obstacles in breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling, but they also seem to continue to face additional challenges even after reaching the top of the corporate hierarchy.”