Women at Disadvantage in Seeking IPO Investments, Research Study Finds

A new study by academic researchers into decisions regarding the financing of Initial Public Offerings (IPO) of fledgling businesses has found "one significant and persistent effect on investor perceptions that did influence those evaluations—the gender of the CEO.” Even though women-owned firms represent almost half of U.S. new businesses, female founders and CEOs of start-ups fared poorly in an IPO simulation involving MBA students, the researchers found – a result of interest to Connecticut’s business start-up, venture capital, and entrepreneurial communities, at a minimum.IPO

The study found that the amount of money that participants recommended for investment in a fictionalized initial public offering for a cosmetic-surgery company was almost 4 times higher if the CEO was identified as male.  In fact, the anticipated share price of IPOs led by male CEOs was approximately 11 percent higher than those of female-led IPOs, suggesting that bias explains why successful female-led IPOs are an "extremely rare phenomenon," the researchers point out.

The paper,recently  published and now available through the Social Science Research Network, was conducted by Lyda S. Bigelow, Leif Lundmark and Robert Wuebker of the University of Utah and Judi McLean Parks of Washington University in St. Louis.McLean Parks, JudiLyda Bigelow

Skirting the Issues: Experimental Evidence of Gender Bias in IPO Prospectus Evaluations,” stresses that “given the impact of entrepreneurial activity around the world, the question of how entrepreneurs finance their ventures is a crucial question, as adequate capitalization for a new venture can make the difference between firm survival and failure. Whether a spin-off or start-up, firms that seek to grow beyond initial size at founding rely on the decisions of potential investors for the necessary financial resources.”

Given that women executives are present in the top management teams of IPO firms in increasing numbers, the lack of female-led IPO firms is a “curious fact, especially since women-owned private businesses represent almost half of the new businesses formed in the United States, with patterns of founding similar to male-owned businesses.”

In the study, using a sample of MBA students the researchers constructed a simulated initial public offering (IPO) manipulating the gender demographics of the top management team. Their results suggested that female CEOs “may be disproportionately disadvantaged in their ability to attract growth capital when all other factors are controlled.”

Despite identical personal qualifications and firm financials in the scenario, the study results indicated that:

  • firms led by females were seen as having a poorer strategic position than those led by males,
  • female Founder/CEOs were perceived as less capable than their male counterparts, and
  • IPOs led by female Founder/CEOs were considered less attractive investments.

“The disparity is significant, as is its potential economic and social impact,” the researchers state. “If companies led by females are disadvantaged in their ability to raise cash through the stock market, it can impact the viability and financial health of their companies, their ability to expand and compete in an increasingly global and competitive environment, and if they are unable to remain viable, their employees’ livelihoods.”

The 43-page research report also suggests that gender bias may extend beyond IPO’s to other disciplines within the financial world, and urge additional study.

Future research, they suggest, “could explore whether or not these findings extend to financial professionals such as bank loan officers or venture capital investors, and could investigate the role that prior experience plays in that process. This is an important question, as financial professionals, making investment decisions for individuals and institutions, control enormous amounts of money (for example, the combined assets of the nation’s mutual funds exceed $7.4 trillion, retirement funds exceed $2.7 trillion, closed end funds exceed $20 billion and exchange traded funds weigh in at $174 billion,” the research team pointed out.

Photos:  Judi Parks (left), Lyda Bigelow