Companies that named female CEOs who were showcased in the press found their stocks trading at a discount just after the announcement, while the stocks of companies that gave the top job to women quietly were more likely to receive a positive response. For men, the response was inverted: The announcement of a male CEO who got little attention in the press appeared to have no significant effect on the stock, while those that got showered with attention were linked with the stock going up….
Smith and his co-authors think what’s going on isn’t necessarily straight prejudice — though he won’t rule out that some investors may think that way. Yet if it was nothing but investors acting on their own gender biases, he says, then the results should be similar for men and women no matter how much media attention they receive.
Rather, he theorizes that what’s going on is something a little more meta. There’s a concept in sociology, variably known as “anticipatory bias,” “preemptive discrimination” or “second-order sense-making” which basically says we behave in a way that may look like we’re prejudiced. But what we’re really doing instead is acting in response to how we think others will behave. Investors may be doing the same thing in these instances. “It’s thinking about the way others are going to respond, and adjusting one’s response accordingly,” says Smith. “It’s the nature of speculative trading in markets of all kinds.”