Academics at Arizona State University discovered from an analysis of shareholder proposals at Fortune 1000 companies between 2003 and 2013 that female CEOs had a 27% likelihood of facing activism. Their male counterparts, however, had a near zero chance of being targeted.
Explanations could include the possibility that shareholders perceive females CEOs as either being a threat to their investments, or easier to boss around, according to Christone Shropshire, an associated professor of management at the college.
“Female leadership is often stereotyped as interactive, collaborative and engagement-orientated, while male leadership is typically categorized as authoritative and powerful,” Shropshire said in a statement.
Recent high-profile targets of shareholder activism include Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi.
Only around 4% of S&P 500 companies are currently run by women.
To be sure, research suggests they tend to be picked when a company is already struggling in a phenomenon known as the “glass cliff”.
And companies in difficulty are far more likely to be targeted by activist investors.