‘Not My CEO’: Employee Reactions to the Threat of Female Leadership



We explore the impact of gender on employee evaluations of their CEO. Employing the lens of group competition theory to understand the female leadership penalty, we theorize that negative reactions toward women in senior positions are motivated in part by the perceived threat these women pose to the existing gender hierarchy. As women increasingly move into positions previously held by men, and as diversity programs lead to shifts in the balance of power, gender is likely to become more salient and trigger backlash effects. Exploiting data from close to a million employee reviews of U.S. listed firms from Glassdoor.com, we show that female CEOs receive lower employee approval ratings compared to male CEOs, and that this is driven primarily by male employees. Our results are robust to controls for firm performance, reviewer ratings of employment conditions, as well as indicators of managerial quality as measured by educational credentials, board memberships, and other achievements. We further find that the organization’s diversity ratings moderate the relationship between CEO gender and employee approval, such that female CEOs are especially penalized among firms that have made substantial progress in promoting women and minorities. Implications for female leadership are discussed.