Hiring female leaders changes organizational language for the better

Women are still largely underrepresented in leadership positions. Stereotypes of women often hinder perceptions of their competency, holding them back from leadership roles. However, appointing women to top jobs helps reduce negative stereotypes of women across the entire organization, according to a Feb. 22 study.

The researchers of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used natural language processing to analyze 43,000 documents containing 1.23 billion words. They targeted companies that recently added a female CEO and used similar companies without a female CEO as a control. Looking for words related to agency, such as "independent," "capable" and "dominant," the researchers worked out how often women versus men were mentioned in the context of agency. 

They found that 72.7 percent of the companies with female CEOs saw an increase in associations between women and agency, whereas only 27.3 percent of the control companies saw an increase. There was also no negative effect on male-agency association when female CEOs took charge, suggesting that the increases in female agency association didn't rest solely on descriptions of the CEO but instead indicates a companywide trend. 

"Our findings suggest that female representation is not merely an end, but also a means to systematically change insidious gender stereotypes," the researchers wrote. 

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