More women CEOs than usual are taking companies public in IPOs

Julie Wainwright (C), CEO of The RealReal Inc. takes part in the company’s IPO at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York, June 28, 2019.

Lucas Jackson | Reuters

The boom in initial public offerings this year has also been a boon for women chief executive officers.

In the first half of the year, 13 women CEOs have taken companies public. They include Julie Wainwright of the RealReal, Jennifer Tejada of PagerDuty, and Jenny Zhiya Qian of Luckin Coffee.

Women chief executives represent 15 percent of the total CEOs that underwent IPOs in 2019 — according to data compiled by CNBC — the highest proportion for any year going back to at least 2014.

That proportion is triple the level of female CEOs in the Russell 3000, meaning that if the trend holds, it could help boost the percentage of women running public companies in America.

”It undeniably took extra courage to invest in these talented-though-female leaders a few years back,” said Lise Buyer, founder of Class V Group, a firm that advises companies on IPOs. ”In 2019, institutional investors have clearly demonstrated their enthusiasm for businesses with attractive growth prospects regardless of whether their CEO is Jim or Julie or Jennifer or John.”

Women CEOs are less likely to take companies public, in part, because they’re less likely to receive venture capital. Last year, companies founded solely by women garnered 2.3 percent of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups, according to PitchBook data. Often times — although not always — founders of startups become CEOs that one day take their companies public.

At least in the past, studies have also shown a gender bias during the IPO process that favors male executives.

One study conducted by the University of Utah five years ago found that women CEOs are disadvantaged by the process due to the judgment of professional investors, who are typically men.

“Despite identical personal qualifications and firm financials, firms led by female CEOs may be hamstrung in terms of their ability to take a company public,” the study said. “Female CEOs are evaluated more negatively and suffer less potential for growth capital during a liquidity event.”

Still, over the last year, there’s been a larger movement toward backing women entrepreneurs, and sizable startups like Rent The Runway and Glossier have female CEOs that may one day choose to embark on initial public offerings of their own.

IPOs are doing great this year with the Renaissance IPO ETF, which measures recent stocks that have recently gone public, up 37% this year, compared to a 19% return for the S&P 500. RealReal is the latest example, up more than 27% since its debut a week ago.

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