Does Gender Bias Against Female Leaders Persist?

[Quantitative and qualitative data from a large-scale survey]

The present study of 60,470 women and men examined evaluations of participants’ current managers as well as their preferences for male and female managers, in general. A cross-sex bias emerged in the ratings of one’s current boss, where men judged their female bosses more favorably and women judged male bosses more favorably. The quality of relationships between subordinates and managers were the same for competent male and female managers. A small majority (54%) of participants claimed to have no preference for the gender of their boss, but the remaining participants reported preferring male over female bosses by more than a 2:1 ratio. Qualitative analysis of the participants’ justifications for this preference are presented, and results are discussed within the framework of role congruity theory.

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Article Notes

  • Kim M Elsesser is a research scholar at the Center for the Study of Women at the University of California, Los Angeles. In addition to her PhD in Psychology from UCLA, Elsesser holds graduate degrees in management and operations research from MIT. In her business career, she was a principal at Morgan Stanley where she co-managed a quantitative hedge fund. More recently she has consulted on large-scale national studies relating to gender and work, and her research interests include gender and leadership, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, cross-sex friendships and social support in the workplace. Her most recent work appears in Human Relations.

  • Janet Lever is Professor of Sociology at California State University, Los Angeles. For the past 40 years her research has focused on wide-ranging issues related to gender studies and human sexuality. Since the early 1980s Lever has collaborated with mass media both to popularize academic scholarship and to harness its power to create data for later scientific analysis. After leading teams of researchers that designed the three largest magazine sex surveys ever tabulated, she came to ELLE to lead a series of surveys hosted on both the health and the business sections of Her Office Sex and Romance Survey (2002) and the Work and Power Survey reported on here are among the largest surveys on these workplace topics. As with the magazine surveys, each of these internet surveys has been reanalyzed for social science, management, health, and medical audiences.

Overcoming Bias: Putting Your Brain Plasticity to Work!


Reply to Why Women Can’t Raise Capital for their Businesses/Kimberly Weisul

Both discrimination and bias are factors in investment and leadership decisions. However, what’s really at work behind women not being at the top, or getting enough financial backing for their ventures is a failure in communication due to our expectations of the type of climate and culture the corporate world should be operating from and the actual reality. The corporate world has done little to honor, respect, and embrace women’s unique style of communicating in the male-created corporate culture. Yes, there has been Equal Opportunity, but the actual culture and dynamics has changed little. Now women, and some men too, can take leave after having a new baby, but aside from this perk, little has changed in regards to understanding how we communicate differently, and how we can use these communication differences to the advantage of the corporate world. Margaret Heffernan’s blog today about Are You Biased? Of Course You Are relates to what you are discussing in your blog, about how people make investment and leadership decisions based on preconceived notions and judgments many of us are subconsciously unaware that we make in a blink of the eye. When people make a decision, if they are unaware of their biases, then the decision is often made due to three things. When we are unaware of our judgments as Margaret Heffernan writes about we are operating blindly because the lens with which we make our decisions is foggy. Instead of making a decision based on what in reality the actual facts are about investing in said venture or hiring a person based on their merits (regardless of their gender) we often make decisions out of ignorance. We let the filters of: (1) past experiences, (2) unrealistic expectations, and (3) unexamined assumptions get the best of us. Lump discrimination and bias in there too—they fit into all three of the above categories.

My question to you is whether or not we should focus on these studies of unfairness proving the point there is an equality problem, or whether we should focus our attention and energy on correcting why it is happening instead. What we are commenting on and what we see occurring at the most basic level is a failure in communication. What I mean by this firstly is whoever is making a point tends to be operating from the combined three filters listed above. Secondly, the failure in communication also pertains to how we interact with each other, and whether or not we can get beyond the pettiness and voices in our heads, to actually deal with whatever or whomever is in front of us at the present time. I’m interested to know if the studies were designed by men or women. Why I say this—is because as women writing about gender bias and discrimination, we are writing from our own filter based on our experiences, and also our unrealistic expectations and unexamined assumptions surrounding women’s rights and the misleading idea that men and women are the same. I am also curious about who designed the studies, because even if men designed the studies, they are operating from the same misnomer. Research in academia requires a section for lessons learned, as well as solutions to the hypothesis posed. In learning how to operate from the present moment with our glasses/filters removed, we all have to accept no one is perfect. The easiest way to grow from experience is to pay attention to the solutions of what has worked the best in the past. So, I am interested in who wrote the studies, and why we are focusing on what’s unfair, instead of what works. Studying and discussing the best case scenarios. Let’s learn from our mistakes, talk about what is working right as it pertains to keeping, promoting, and letting women rise in the workforce so there is equal representation. Incidentally, the women on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women List are the ones who have embraced their unique style of communicating and used this as a strength to promote their brand’s name. Let’s focus on the solution to spread the success.

We are at a point in history where we can now agree and acknowledge men and women are different, they are no less equal as far as rights are concerned, but each and every person is a unique and different human being. The companies on the Fortune 500 list excel above and beyond their competition, because they are embracing the concept of gender intelligent communication as a means to create balance within their company. Instead of focusing our attention (some may even say complaints) on the numbers not adding up, we should focus our attention on how to raise each other up and incorporate gender intelligent communication so the pressing question is not “why does discrimination (and bias) influence investment and leadership decisions,” but “how can we create more success for our businesses by incorporating the unique qualities women bring to the table in the corporate world?” Every great leader knows it is the relationships between their people internally, and in how they provide customer service to their buyers externally that makes their venture successful. When men and women operate in the workplace from a place of mutual respect and understanding of how their differences in communication compliments and adds to their productivity and efficiency, then the assumptions and expectations will be realistic, instead of based on discrimination or bias. And in time our past experiences will mirror this reality, and we will no longer have the discussion of why men and women are not in and at the top of the workforce in equal numbers.

Lyndsay Katauskas, MEd

Mars Venus Success Coach