Choosing Sides: CEO Gender and Investor Support for Activist Campaigns

Amanda P. Cowen, Nicole Votolato Montgomery, Christine Shropshire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent evidence suggests that female-led firms are more likely to be targeted by activist investors. We examine how Chief Executive Officer (CEO) gender influences retail investors’ responses to proxy contests.We find that these investors are more likely to support—through their proxy voting behavior—campaigns that target female-led versus male-led firms, despite the fact that retail investors evaluate female and male CEOs similarly. We show that this apparent discrepancy is a function of how subjective ratings mask stereotype-influenced judgments, consistent with the shifting standards model (SSM). Respondents use lower standards to evaluate female versus male CEOs. This difference becomes apparent when externallyanchored judgments are employed, such as when investors are asked to choose sides in a proxy contest. Correspondingly, activists are judged as relatively more competent when targeting female-led firms. Our findings contribute to research on CEO gender and activism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • female CEO
  • investor activism
  • proxy contest
  • retail investors
  • shifting standards

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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