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New Smeal research shows success of female CEOs is influenced by exit actions of their mostly male predecessors

April 30, 2018

The Academy of Management, the largest global association devoted to management and organization research, published a new study recently that found the success of female CEOs can be influenced by their mostly male predecessors. Under specific conditions and by leveraging their own status and power within an organization, predecessor CEOs can be a formidable force in facilitating the subsequent success of female CEOs. 

Published by the Academy of Management Journal, the study “Gender-Inclusive Gatekeeping: How (Mostly Male) Predecessors Influence the Success of Female CEOs,” was written by Priyanka Dwivedi of Texas A&M University, Mays Business School and Aparna Joshi and Vilmos F. Misangyi of the Penn State Smeal College of Business. 

Dwivedi, an assistant professor of management at Texas A&M, earned an MBA at Smeal and then obtained her Ph.D. at Smeal. Joshi is the Arnold Family Professor of Management. Misangyi is a professor of strategic management, BNY Mellow Fellow and chair of the Management and Organization Department 

The three researchers studied how several facets of predecessor CEOs and the succession context combine to influence the incoming female CEOs’ post-succession performance. The authors conclude that although female leaders were not solely reliant for their success on their male predecessors, predecessor CEOs can potentially leverage varying levels of influence and power within an organization to craft structures and display behaviors that counteract the long-standing gender stereotypes in the workplace and contribute to incoming female CEOs’ success. 

"We are not saying women cannot be successful without men. What we are saying is that men can do more. Our focus was on female CEOs but our data revealed what their mostly male predecessors can do. In half the cases where male predecessors were gender inclusive, they participated in sponsoring and championing the incoming CEOs prior to, during and sometimes even after the succession event,” Joshi said. 

“But in the other half of the cases women were outsiders and their male predecessors played no role at all in enabling their performance post-succession. This leaves us asking why men don’t do more to foster gender inclusion at the highest levels and to note how important it is for firms to engage men in gender inclusion." 

The authors conducted a case study of every CEO succession event involving women at the largest corporations in the United States over 20 years. Although not all predecessors were “gender-inclusive gatekeepers”,  the authors identified the following three formulae among the high performing cases that were unique to female CEOs and not found among a comparable set of male CEOs:

  • Handing over the legacy: A powerful, long-term predecessor sponsors a long-serving female successor from within the firm, completely hands over the reins of power to her and then leaves the company.
  • Partnering the legacy: A long-term predecessor transitions their CEO role to a long-serving female successor who he has sponsored from within the firm, but remains on the company’s board of directors (often as chairman) to serve as a partner to the female successor.
  • Turning around the legacy: A powerful, long-term predecessor transitions the CEO role of a poorly performing firm to a long-term female protégé successor, and continues to act as a mentor to the female successor while maintaining their role as Chairman of the Board 

“We operate in a world where just 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women,” said Dwivedi. “CEO successions are challenging separate and apart from gender dynamics and our research demonstrates that it is crucial for male CEOs and boards to ensure a culture of inclusivity at the highest levels of an organization when passing the reins to a female successor in order to set her up for success.” 

The research can be found in the April issue of the Academy of Management Journal. 

Media can request copies of the research and interviews with the authors at press@aom.org. The media contact at AOM, Kerry Lange, can be reached at 312-548-7428. 

About Academy of Management
Academy of Management is the most well-established and largest global association devoted to management and organization research, with 20,000 members from more than 120 countries across six continents. The Academy publishes six top-rated journals with the most authoritative and diverse management research findings. For more information, visit www.aom.org.

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