Do Women Have the Right Skills, Network and Support to Become CEOs?




This study investigates how women board members in listed companies perceive the fit between women’s leadership skills and how the role of CEO in listed companies is defined in the recruitment process. Qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted with 22 women board members, representing all listed companies in Iceland, to obtain an understanding of their experiences regarding support of women candidates and whether they believe estimates of women’s leadership skills contribute to the small number of women holding the position of CEO in a listed company. Data analysis revealed three themes; the first theme concerns networks and their impact on the appointments of CEO; the second deals with support for women seeking CEO positions and the third considers assessment of women’s leadership skills in relation to CEO appointments. The findings provide a new insight into the experience of women board members as regards the assessment of women’s leadership skills and the support to take on the position of CEO in listed companies in Iceland, but only limited research is available about the topic. The findings indicate that when selecting the CEOs of listed companies, it is a matter of importance that the applicant is a member of a male network and complies with masculine stereotypes of leadership styles. The findings suggest that when appointing CEOs of listed companies there is more support for men’s overconfidence than women’s reserved demeanour and men’s overconfidence is perceived as a better fit to how the role of CEO is defined in the recruitment process. The study provides new insights into how these outdated ideas on effective leadership and gender roles impact decisions when CEOs of listed companies are selected with corresponding likelihood of women being overlooked as successful candidates in the selection process.

Keywords: Gender, effective leadership, CEO recruitment, listed companies, boards, stereotypes.