To be a good leader, you first have to convince your colleagues that you are a leader worth following. And for women seeking leadership, there is good news: many people think you are better than men across most leadership traits, according to a new Pew Research Center public opinion poll.
Poll: Women better at creating safe and respectful workplace
The June and July poll of 4,587 Americans found that Americans, for the most part, see women and men as equally capable for leadership even though their styles may be widely different. But on some key areas of leadership for people who saw differences, women came out on top. The overwhelming majority of respondents — 89% — said that creating a safe and respectful workplace was critical for a business leader to do, and while 43% of participants thought women were better at doing this, only 5% of respondents thought men were better at this.
Among people who saw differences between men and women in power, these respondents thought that women were stronger at being compassionate and empathetic, and were better able to work out compromises. They also thought that women were better at valuing people’s “different backgrounds” (35%), “considering the societal impact of business decisions” (33%), “providing mentorship to young employees” (33%), and “getting their employees fair pay and good benefits” (28%).
But despite this vote of confidence, women still face barriers to earning the full trust of the public. Among people who noticed gendered differences in leadership, men ranked higher in “being willing to take risks” in politics and “negotiating profitable deals” in business. If you are not seen as a closer, it is harder to get the top job.
Six in ten people said that the reason for women’s underrepresentation in leadership is that women had to do more to “prove themselves.” Almost half of participants agreed that many businesses are not ready to hire women for top executive positions. This doubt may partly explain why women can be seen as strong leaders even though they are missing from these leadership positions. Only 25 female CEOs are currently in the S&P 500 stock index, and women account for just 20% of the 535 members of Congress.
We must remember that the Pew survey is public opinion, not fact, about how capable men and women are at being leaders, but it demonstrates that despite our growing enthusiasm for women leaders, there is still more work to do until this enthusiasm matches the reality of being a women in power.