Caroline Fairchild, Fortune, February 12, 2015

Do activist investors really see women CEOs as easier targets? That’s the question that media pundits and experts alike are abuzz with as six prominent female CEOs fend off bids from aggressive activist investors. Most recently, GM CEO Mary Barra is feeling pressure from an activist who is trying to get on her board. She joins Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, DuPont’s Ellen Kullman, Mondelez’s Irene Rosenfeld and HP’s Meg Whitman who are also under pressure from the likes of activists.

With only 25 female CEOs in the Fortune 500, it’s hard not to pause and question if gender targeting is really going on. But rather than join the discussion on whether or not they think these activists are targeting them on gender grounds, all the executives are staying quiet. None of the women have come out publicly on the issue and all of them either denied Fortune’s request for comment or didn’t respond immediately. Why?

Call it good common sense. Becoming the “poster child” for any issue — gender aside — when your company is under pressure to perform is the last thing any CEO should do, a group of experts told Fortune. Commenting publicly on the issue would not only put these women in a position of weakness, but could encourage activist investors to see their gender as a barrier to them being an effective leader.

“Chief executives are interested in maintaining both their power and reputation,” said Davia Temin, the founder of Temin & Co., a crisis-management firm. “There would be no benefit in acknowledging your gender. In fact, a lot of detriment could come of that. A female CEO doesn’t need to remind anyone else that she is a woman seeking the very same leadership goals as a man.” […read more]