Little has changed in 60 years about the gender gap in leadership aspirations.


Little has changed in 60 years about the gender gap in leadership aspirations.

Little has changed in 60 years about the gender gap in leadership

A review of data from leadership studies conducted over six decades found that women in the United States are still less likely than men to show a desire to take on leadership or managerial jobs.

Even if the overall disparity has a tiny but persistent influence, fewer women rise at each level, even when systematic discrimination is not taken into account. This is especially true for upper leadership levels. The results of the researchers' simulation showed that there were more than two male leaders at the highest levels for every female leader, reflecting the gender difference in leadership aspirations.

According to Leah Sheppard, an associate professor at Washington State University and co-lead author of the study that was published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, "this suggests that even if we were to drastically reduce bias and systematic gender discrimination, we still wouldn't expect to see equal representation of women in leadership roles." "We need to have a discussion about leadership goals if we want to reach a more equitable 50/50 split. We must consider what women require in order to identify with these roles."

The findings do not negate the existence of structural prejudice, according to Sheppard and co-lead author Ekaterina Netchaeva, an assistant professor at Bocconi University in Italy. Furthermore, they do not imply that women lack ambition, as a previous study has demonstrated that women do desire promotions, such as those that involve moving from junior to senior-level positions, but not usually those that entail greater supervisory responsibilities.

In order to conduct this analysis, the researchers obtained 174 study samples, totaling more than 138,000 study participants, from the 1960s through 2020. All of the research evaluated leadership aspirations across a variety of academic disciplines, including management, law, psychology, and economics. The researchers approached the authors of many of the original studies for extra statistics to compare the goals of men and women even though they were not particularly designed to measure gender differences.

According to the current survey, the leadership aspiration gap expanded among people working in male-dominated fields like politics and business, with even fewer women wishing to run for government.

The analysis was unable to determine the precise causes of women's lower motivation to hold leadership positions in business or politics, but experts believe a number of variables, including internalised sexism, are likely at play.

According to Netchaeva, "self-stereotyping" is the process through which people internalise their own gender preconceptions and actively comply with gender standards. "For women, this entails internalising a more community paradigm, which causes them to regard themselves as less similar to a leader and, as a result, to aspire to leadership roles to a lesser extent," the author writes.

On the other hand, men, Netchaeva continued, can believe they fit the masculine agentic stereotype in that they have more control over both themselves and others, which also fits the common perception of leaders as being in charge.

Other factors cited by previous studies include the fact that women experience the workplace more negatively than males do, including discrimination, which can reduce their hopes for the future. Women might worry about the toll high-ranking positions would have on their personal and family lives.

The gender disparity in ambitions is likely wider than what has been assessed by the research, according to some indicators of publication bias that the authors discovered. The fact that the research question is disputed suggests that this bias exists since it may be more challenging to publish studies that demonstrate a difference favouring men.

The aspiration difference started to show up rather early, especially around college age, according to the study. More investigation is required to comprehend not only when precisely this disparity appears but also why many women might not wish to hold leadership positions.

In the meanwhile, employers can be proactive, according to the study, and focus interventions on raising the ambitions of their female employees while continuing to lessen systemic bias. Establishing family-friendly rules, pairing women with mentors, and encouraging them to assume less formal leadership roles, such as those associated with team projects, are a few examples of these initiatives.

If those who have mixed feelings about leadership are given the opportunity to fully engage in the role, they may discover that they are suited for it and even enjoy it, according to Sheppard.

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