News & Politics

Who Make Better Bosses -- Women or Men?

New research shows women outperform men in five of eight leadership categories.
The Pew Research Center's latest survey on gender and leadership reveals that the public thinks women have more desirable leadership traits than men. The survey asked its respondents -- 2,250 adults -- to rate women and men on eight characteristics considered important in leadership. Women smashed men in five of the categories -- honesty, intelligence, compassion, outgoing personality, creativity -- and tied men in two: hard work and ambition. The only category in which men showed an edge was decisiveness.

Respondents also ranked women higher in job performance skills including working out compromises, keeping government honest, representing constituents' interests and standing up for their beliefs. The public also said women are better at dealing with social issues but not as good at dealing with crime/public safety or national security/defense.

Interestingly, the survey showed that even though respondents clearly favored women over men on the majority of leadership traits, when asked who make better leaders, 69 percent called it a draw. Twenty-one percent said men make better leaders; only 6 percent said women do.

Why the paradox in public perception? How can three categories -- "decisive" and good on crime and defense -- overshadow the long list of traits that women lead in, often by overwhelming margins.

"[W]omen emerge from this survey a bit like a sports team that racks up better statistics but still loses the game," write the report's authors.
To be sure, the fact that such a large majority of respondents (69 percent) say that women and men make equally good political leaders is itself a measure of the profound changes in women's role in society that have taken place over the past several decades.
Women make up 57 percent of all college students, about half of all law and medical school students, and more than four-in-ten students who earn masters degrees in business. They make up 46 percent of the total private sector workforce and 38 percent of all managers.
However, it's still lonely for women at the very highest rungs of the corporate and political ladder. Women are just 2 percent of the CEOs of the nation's Fortune 500 companies. In the political realm, they make up just 17 percent of all members of the U.S. House of Representatives; 16 percent of all U.S. senators; 16 percent of all governors; and 24 percent of all state legislators. Internationally, the U.S.ranks in the middle range -- 85th in the world -- in its share of women in the lower house of its national legislative body.

Read the survey's full results here.
Heather Gehlert is a managing editor at AlterNet.
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