Picture a top executive. If you see a woman, you’re not alone.

Why We Wrote This

Stereotypes are persistent, but they also bend based on real-life experience. When it comes to gender and leadership, Americans increasingly value the qualities women bring to the podium.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Window Snyder from Fastly (center.) speaks on a panel moderated by Aanchal Gupta (left), director of security at Facebook, about Applied Security Engineering at OURSA, Our Security Advocates, an alternate cybersecurity conference featuring women speakers talking about their work, on April 17, 2018 in San Francisco.

Attitudes about gender and leadership have been changing among men and women alike. Back in 1975, for example, about 6 in 10 of both women and men said they preferred their boss at work to be male, according to polling by Gallup. By 2017, that percentage had fallen by more than half, with most men and a plurality of women seeing “no difference” on the issue.

Why the change? In a study released today by the American Psychological Association, researchers point to women’s growing presence in the workforce and in colleges as key factors.

“As the roles of women and men have changed ... so have beliefs about their attributes,” lead author Alice Eagly said in releasing the study.

Today a majority of U.S. adults view women and men as equals on a number of leadership traits, such as being persuasive, according to Pew Research Center surveys. And people who do see gender differences now tend to give women the edge.

Yet Dr. Eagly says men are still perceived to rank higher in agency or ambition. And women still lag far behind men in actually filling top posts. “What’s the problem?” asks Gallup chief operating officer Jane Miller in a recent commentary. One answer, she says, is that “few organizational cultures are giving women (and men) what they need to raise families and rise to leadership.”

SOURCE: Pew Research Center; Fortune (for women CEO totals)
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Karen Norris/Staff
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