A recent study published in the Harvard Business Review answers this question. Before unpacking the researchers’ findings, let’s examine public perceptions about women in leadership roles, their lived experiences, and the number of women who occupy leadership positions in the United States.
The statistics on leadership, wage inequality, and sexual harassment put women’s experiences in perspective. More than 50% of the U.S. population is female. In the 227 years since George Washington was elected president in 1789, no woman has ever been elected president. Women comprise only 5% of the Fortune 500 CEOs and earn 78% of what men do in full-time positions. Even though there are more males ages 18-24 in the U.S., considerably more females attend college. A recent study revealed one in three women ages 18-34 have been sexually harassed at work.
How do men perceive women in leadership roles? A study of gender-based stereotyping that interviewed 296 corporate leaders revealed their views of women in the workplace. Specifically, the study found that men perceive women as “less adept at problem-solving” and “better at care-taking skills.” Conversely, men see themselves as being able to “take charge” and “delegate responsibility.”
Are men’s perceptions of women and their own skills accurate? The results from the Harvard study provide the answers. The study evaluated 7,280 leaders on 16 competencies that 30 years of research have shown to be the most accurate measurements of effective leadership.
The study results reveal that women were rated more effective than men in every competency except one: strategic perspective (51-49). Women outscored men in the other 15 leadership categories. The higher the leadership position the women held, the better their rating. Women outscored men by the biggest differential on “taking initiative” and “driving for results,” two areas that are most stereotypically believed to be better handled by men. Women also scored considerably higher than men in this study on “displaying integrity and honesty, inspiring and motivating others, and building relationships.” This study should put to rest any notion that men are better leaders than women.
None of these results assume that men automatically believe in gender stereotypes, discriminate against women, or can’t also effectively lead. Men always have room for improvement and may unwittingly possess myopic views on gender, and should therefore consider these tips.
1) Stereotyping and denying women opportunities and equal pay doesn’t make men more powerful. It makes them more insecure and limits their success potential.
2) If a man works in a leadership position, they should provide women opportunities to speak. Men may interrupt more and listen less. That doesn’t make their input more valuable. It’s a leader’s job to solicit everyone’s viewpoints.
3) If a man disagrees with an idea, he should ask questions and offer constructive feedback. Disagree with the idea, not the gender. Both men and women provide good and bad suggestions.
4) Men can be quick to answer questions because they tend to be more confident in the workplace, largely due to their dominance in the leadership space. Those fast replies can be less thoughtful. Men should not equate confidence with ability.
5) Men should not feel threatened by women. Women work just as hard as men, and they’re equally intelligent and capable. Men should let go of old stereotypes and welcome women to leadership positions.
To help reduce the promotion of gender stereotypes in future generations, consider sharing these results with your son to inform him and with your daughter to inspire her.