Who Speaks? Individual and Institutional Predictors of CEO Activism

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Social Science Quarterly






Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.

Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



Background CEOs increasingly take public stands on social and political issues tangential to their corporation.s core mission. Emergent research on this phenomenon has explored the prevalence, impacts and risks of increasing CEO activism for firms. However, very little research has explored the individual and institutional factors that motivate CEO activism. This project attempts to refocus this nascent field by exploring the gendered, racial, sexual and organizational factors that motivate leaders to speak out on issues ranging from DEI, gun control, climate change, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. Method To answer our research question - who speaks? - we examined CEOs, companies, and key social issues within the Proquest Newsstand Database. First, we conducted a large exploratory study of random men and women CEOs to determine if gender differences exist. Next, we examined all women CEOs in the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 between 2019–2021 to provide a more thorough and nuanced analysis. Results We find that women CEOs are more likely to speak out compared to men CEOs. Further, we find that BIPOC and LGBTQ+ CEOs are more likely to engage in activism compared to other CEOs. We also find that the market value of the firm and the presence of women on the board of directors serve as significant predictors of CEO activism compared to other firms. Conclusion We consider the implications of these findings for the appointment, tenure and visibility of historically underrepresented CEOs.