University of Georgia

Female CEOs face subtle bias

Woman sitting behind a business desk

Even when female CEOs break through the glass ceiling, the boards overseeing them often reflect a subtler sexism, according to new research from UGA’s Terry College of Business.

In a study published in Strategic Management Journal, Terry doctoral candidate Abbie Griffith Oliver and her co-authors found that female CEOs are more frequently subjected to “benevolent sexism” from their companies’ boards of directors. And they are 50 percent more likely than their male peers to have “collaborative” relationships with board chairpersons, rather than relationships that focus more on monitoring CEO performance.

“People tend to focus on hostile sexism, the overt measures, like not hiring women or paying them less,” Oliver says. “But by the time women get to the top levels, they are qualified and the board wants them to be there. That doesn’t mean that their gender doesn’t influence the way that people interact with them.”
Oliver and her co-authors studied data from 523 U.S. firms over 10 years, using documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to gauge whether the board chair-CEO relationships were oriented toward collaboration or control.

This brief appeared in the fall 2018 issue of  Research Magazine. The original press release is available at