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New research shows having daughters can permanently affect male CEOs’ gender-related attitudes in business, human resourcing and governance priorities, making them more inclined towards supporting women’s struggles for equality.

According to new research from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), a male founder’s daughter can help counteract her father’s blind spots by helping him understand the barriers that women face. This can then lead to a real boost in the number of women that the company employs, and also the number of women on the company’s board of directors. 

The ‘daughter effect’

The researchers analysed the effects of fathering an additional daughter versus an additional son for owner-manager CEOs and found that fathering an additional daughter versus a son, which is naturally random, is associated with a substantial increase in female director representation.

The authors found that having a daughter rather than a son was associated with an increase in female directors and female employees by 4%. Their conclusion is that, since this daughter-to-father effect gradually matures as daughters grow up and socialise in schools and workplaces, and increases as daughters age, it suggests the male founders are learning through their daughters about the constraints women face, and that this happens throughout their daughters’ lives. This is known as the ‘daughter effect’.

Daughters and male CEOs

One of the CEOs from the study has two daughters and no sons. He said: “You mature a lot [after having children], since you don’t just have yourself to take care of anymore. [Fatherhood] creates maturity in the eyes of different stakeholders; when they see that you are not alone any more [but have a family], they look at you differently. And you behave consciously or unconsciously like a father, like a parent, and it projects some security, and it has actually influenced my company in a positive way.”

READ MORE: Channing Tatum Says His Daughter Made Him More Of A Feminist

In general, when daughters, and potentially other loved ones, are vulnerable to gender disparity, men become physically and socioemotionally impacted as a result. Being better able to understand and sympathise with the hurdles women can face in society. This encourages them to become involved in the gender equality cause.


Speaking about the study, the lead researcher Dr. Zhiyan Wu said: “The CEOs that we studied spoke to us about how their corporate decisions have changed after their first-hand learnings from their growing daughters about the constraints women often face. They recognised that those constraints had escaped from their attention till their daughters became potentially vulnerable to those constraints in their adolescence and early adulthood.”

“Privilege is invisible to those who have it. Men have such a ‘privilege’ and often do not realise the constraints women face. Vicarious exposures to such constraints via loved ones can nudge reflections.”

“Those seeking to cultivate a more gender egalitarian economy may benefit from highlighting the personal stakes and responsibilities of male leaders in helping build a gender-equal society for their loved ones and not only for women in general.”

The study provides evidence that decision-makers’ personal relationships matter in how they approach gender equality at work. Firms, governments and non-profits may gainfully use this by creating platforms for all leaders – not only women – actively championing gender equality, such as the United Nations’ ‘He for She’ initiative.


  • Jennifer Read-Dominguez

    Jennifer Read-Dominguez is founder of The Women's Journal and a digital editorial director with over ten years experience in the media and publishing industry. Jennifer has led the digital transformation strategies for many market-leading lifestyle magazines putting SEO and e-commerce at the forefront. She is also founder of Jeneration Public Relations - a UK digital-first public relations and communications consultancy that provides strategic coverage for clients.

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