The Role of Gender in the Aggressive Questioning of CEOs During Earnings Conference Calls

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Author Information : Joseph Comprix (Syracuse University)
Kerstin Lopatta (University of Hamburg)
Sebastian Tideman (University of Exeter)

Year of Publication : The Accounting Review forthcoming in November 2022

Summary of Findings : Questions from male analysts are more verbally aggressive than questions from female analysts, particularly when the CEO being asked the questions is female.

Research Questions : Do questions by male and female analysts differ in their levels of verbal aggressiveness?
Are questions by male analysts more verbally aggressive when the CEO is female?

What we know : Earnings conference calls are a heavily male-dominated setting, with roughly 95% of CEOs and 90% of analysts being male. Our research provides insight into gender-related differences in the use of language in a male-dominated professional setting. As a consequence of our findings, people who are evaluating sell-side analysts should consider differences between the linguistic styles of men and women when evaluating them. These differences seem to be important. For example, we find that female analysts who ask aggressive questions are more likely to be named to Institutional Investor’s All-America Research Team, whereas we fail to find such evidence for male analysts.

Novel Findings : Our finding that earnings conference call questions from male sell-side analysts tend to be more verbally aggressive improves our understanding of cross-gender communications in a professional setting. In addition, our finding that male analysts ask more aggressive questions to female CEOs provides evidence consistent with an out-of-group bias between analysts and CEOs. Finally, we provide evidence that gender-related verbal aggressiveness matters as it is associated with the likelihood that female analysts are voted to Institutional Investor’s All-America Research Team.

In addition, we introduce verbal aggressiveness as a novel construct (4 separate measures: directness of questions, follow-up questions, negative questions, preface statements) to the accounting and finance literature. Verbal aggressiveness captures how challenging questions are to answer. Future research can use our measures to explore determinants and consequences of questions that are difficult to answer (i.e., verbally aggressive questions).

Full Citations : R. J. Comprix, K. Lopatta, and S. A. Tideman, 2022, “The role of gender in the aggressive questioning of CEOs during earnings conference calls,” The Accounting Review, forthcoming.

Abstract : We investigate the role of gender on the aggressiveness of sell-side analysts’ questions during earnings conference calls. Our tests reveal that the verbal aggressiveness of analysts’ questions is significantly associated with both the gender of the analyst asking the question and the gender of the CEO fielding the question. First, we find that male analysts are more verbally aggressive than female analysts. Specifically, male analysts’ questions are more direct and more likely to be followed with further questions, to have a preface statement, and to be negative, all of which are consistent with verbal aggressiveness. Second, male analysts’ questions to female CEOs are more aggressive than their questions to male CEOs. Gender-based verbal aggressiveness appears to be associated with analysts’ career trajectories: Female analysts who ask aggressive questions have a higher likelihood of becoming “star” analysts, whereas we fail to find such evidence for male analysts.

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Johann Comprix
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