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For Straight Answers, You’re Better Off Asking a Female CFO

Male CFOs are more likely to muddy the water with euphemisms and talk too much, research shows.

If you want to get a straight answer on company financials, ask a woman.

Female chief financial officers are more likely to give concise responses, backed by numbers, while their male counterparts tend to be overly optimistic, use more euphemisms and cliches, and are wordier, according to research from Bucknell University, New York University and a Prudential Financial Inc. subsidiary that analyzed roughly 106,000 conference calls from 4,988 U.S. companies from 2009 to 2019.

Women bring something to the table that men might not have, said Kate Suslava, an assistant professor of accounting at Bucknell University’s Freeman College of Management, and one of the study’s authors. Women use fewer euphemisms, they use fewer cliches, and they use less complex sentences.

The research found that clearer answers and better data also signaled better future results — and the fact that the CFO is a woman may indicate the company is more progressive overall, Suslava said. 

It’s the signal that the company is open to promoting women and creating diversity in the C-suite.

Companies have been increasing their commitment to diversity after the #MeToo movement and the racial unrest of 2020 over inequality for Black Americans. Progress in meeting those goals remains elusive.

Women, who make up about half the workforce, reached 15% of the CFO positions in 2021 among S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies, the most ever, according to an annual report from executive recruiter Crist Kolder Associates. They hold 6.9% of CEO positions, a record compared to previous years.

Suslava said the study used a natural language computer program she developed for previous research to analyze the quarterly earnings calls, and find the different patterns for men and women. The research looked at tone, number frequency and other factors.

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