Date of Thesis

Spring 2018


In June 2017, Fortune released its annual ranking of the top 500 most profitable U.S. companies and the media responded in triumph—32 of the 500 companies were being led by female CEOs, a record in the six-decade long history of the list. Despite this actually modest level of representation (a 6.4% composition of women in the Fortune 500 mix), headlines celebrated the “shattering” of the glass ceiling and the supposed “success” this represented for female leadership. However, in other ways, the media has been harsh in evaluating the performance of these women CEOs, often ignoring their successes and focusing instead on their supposed failures. Little research has deeply probed whether there is a relationship between CEO gender and organizational performance, especially for companies at the Fortune 500 level.

This study statistically analyzes a paired sample of Fortune 500 companies, similar in all dimensions except CEO gender, to (a) determine whether there is a relationship between CEO gender and company performance; and (b) to identify whether three other factors, each related to CEO hiring, have a relationship with company performance. This study aims to discern whether a complementary relationship exists among other factors, gender, and company performance; and to assess which factors perhaps other than gender might be operating to truly drive company performance while gender is taking the blame.

The findings of this study reveal no statistically significant relationship between CEO gender and company performance as measured by average return on assets, average return on equity, and average return on invested capital. It similarly finds no relationship between either prior CEO experience and company performance or company performance decline prior to CEO hire and company performance. Alternatively, it does find a significant positive relationship between internal hires and company performance, as well as a significant positive relationship between the interaction of internal hire and gender with organizational performance as measured by return on equity only.

This study serves to dismantle the myth that women tend to make inferior CEOs. It contributes to women’s studies, leadership studies, and diversity studies by linking minority leadership to company performance outcomes, with practical implications for hiring practices and women’s empowerment.

Access Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Bachelor of Science in Business Administration


Accounting and Financial Management

Second Major

Women's and Gender Studies

First Advisor

Janice M. Traflet

Second Advisor

Mihai M. Banciu