How Sexism Screws Over Stock Prices

Image Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/GettyImages

Remember Fearless Girl? The viral Wall Street statue faced off against the famous Charging Bull for almost two years, until it was relocated due to traffic hazards. Fearless Girl herself wasn't so much a comment about feminism as a branding exercise for an asset management company, promoting its Gender Diversity Index Fund. Her fans (and probably her creators) would be disappointed to learn that investors in general see women in company leadership roles as liabilities instead of experts.

Researchers at the international business school INSEAD have just released a study on how investors interpret gender-diverse boards of directors, and the news isn't good. Investors overall tend to see female board members as "mere diversity," representing less of a commitment to shareholder value than an all-male board. These companies in turn suffer on the stock market: According to a press release, "one additional woman on the board results in a 2.3 percent decrease in the company's market value on average, which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars."

As if women didn't already face the glass ceiling on their way into institutional power, which doesn't even protect them in the C-suite; even when it comes to investing on a day-to-day level, women face emotional and systemic barriers. But the INSEAD researchers have some optimism in reserve: It's likely that current trends toward diversity and inclusion, which demonstrate better outcomes overall, will win out over time. That may be small comfort, however, as you keep an eye on your portfolio.