Whether they are heading a major corporation or serving in elected office, leaders bring a combination of traits to the table. Roughly two-thirds of adults (67%) say that being organized is an essential quality in a leader.
Men and women tend to agree on the relative importance of the top tier of leadership traits. In addition, women are more likely than men to say that ambition is an essential trait for a leader (57% of women and 48% of men say this is absolutely essential). The public sees little distinction between men and women on several of these leadership traits. Still, many Americans do make distinctions between men and women on certain leadership qualities. The public is also much more likely to see women as being more organized than men, rather than vice versa. Women also have an advantage over men when it comes to honesty—one of the most crucial leadership traits, according to the public. While solid majorities of the public see no difference between men and women on decisiveness and ambition, among those who do draw a distinction on these traits, men have an edge over women. For example, among those who say honesty is an essential quality for a leader to have, 68% say that men and women are equally honest (among all adults 67% say the same). Compared to their share of the population, women remain underrepresented at virtually all levels of elected office, but the new Pew Research survey findings suggest that this is not due to a lack of confidence on the part of the public.
Views on gender and political leadership are remarkably stable across major demographic groups. There is broad agreement across generations as well, although Gen Xers are somewhat less likely than younger or older generations to say that women make better leaders than men.
Solid majorities of Republicans (75%), Democrats (74%) and independents (76%) say men and women are equally qualified for political leadership. In elected office, women tend to be more heavily represented in the legislative branches of government than in the executive branches, but the public doesn’t draw sharp distinctions in terms of where women can do the best job. While most Americans think, in general terms, men and women make equally good political leaders, many do see gender differences in style and substance. Most adults (68%) say political leaders are equally good at working to improve the quality of life for Americans regardless of their gender. Similarly, women have an edge over men when it comes to standing up for what they believe in, despite political pressure.
There is a wide and consistent gender gap in opinions about the relative strengths of male and female political leaders. Women are also significantly more likely than men to say that in politics female leaders have an advantage over male leaders in terms of standing up for what they believe in, despite political pressure. Interestingly, while men are somewhat more likely than women to say that male political leaders excel in several of these areas, in most cases, even men give female leaders at least a slight edge. About half of women from the Baby Boom (47%) and Silent generations (50%) say that women in high political office are better than men at working out compromises. For example, while 40% of Democrats say female political leaders are better than male leaders at working out compromises, only 30% of Republicans agree.
When it comes to standing up for what they believe in, despite political pressure, three-in-ten Democrats say female political leaders are better at this than male leaders. Just as the public views men and women as equally capable on various leadership traits and characteristics, majorities see little difference between male and female political leaders in some major policy realms. Environmental policy is another area where the public sees little difference between male and female political leaders: 71% say when it comes to handling environmental issues, men and women perform about equally well. The gender gaps in perceptions about male and female leaders are not as pronounced on these policy issues as they are for traits and attributes.
The vast majority of the public (80%) says that men and women make equally good business leaders, but many feel businesses are not ready to hire women for top executive positions. Looking at some of the specific attributes required to be successful in business, again, the public sees relatively few differences between men and women.
Among those who do draw distinctions between men and women on these leadership attributes, some clear gender patterns emerge. Neither men nor women are seen as having a clear advantage in serving as spokespeople for their companies: 9% say men are better at this, 12% say women are better and 77% see no difference between the two. Views about men and women and their effectiveness in certain aspects of business leadership differ somewhat by gender. Men are more likely than women to say that male leaders in business are more willing to take risks (37% of men say this, compared with 31% of women). Some of the largest partisan gaps can be seen on which gender does a better job of being honest and ethical (37% of Democrats say women, 29% of Republicans say the same), providing fair pay and good benefits (37% of Democrats say women, 24% of Republicans say the same), and being willing to take risks (44% of Republicans say men, 30% of Democrats say the same). While the public believes that, in general terms, men and women are equally capable of running a business, that assessment changes somewhat when the question is posed about specific industries. The share saying a man would do a better job running a computer software company is higher than the share saying a woman would do a better job at this. The responses are nearly identical for a major retail chain: 37% say a woman would do a better job running this type of company, 15% say a man would do a better job and 43% say there is no difference or it depends. Women also have a slight advantage when it comes to running a large bank or financial institution.
Men and women tend to agree in their assessments of who could do a better job running companies in each of these industries. Women are much more likely than men to see potential benefits in having more female leaders.
Similarly, Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to say that more female leaders would be beneficial to all women. Public Says Women are Equally Qualified, but Barriers PersistAccording to the majority of Americans, women are every bit as capable of being good political leaders as men. Instead, topping the list of reasons, about four-in-ten Americans point to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves. As a result, the public is divided about whether, even in the face of the major advances women have made in the workplace, the imbalance in corporate America will change in the foreseeable future.
When it comes to characteristics that apply specifically to political and business leadership, most Americans don’t distinguish between men and women. Women are also perceived to have an edge over men when it comes to being honest and ethical (34% say women are better at this; 3% say men are better at it).
Just as in the political realm, the public does not see major differences between men and women on key business leadership qualities.
As the 114th Congress gets underway, a record number of women (104) will be serving in the House and Senate. Women have also made inroads into managerial positions and professional fields in recent decades. For women, the issue of having more female leaders goes far beyond equality in the workplace. When it comes to the barriers that may be holding women back from achieving greater representation in the top leadership ranks, women are much more likely than men to point to societal and institutional factors such as the country not being ready to elect more female political leaders and women being held to higher standards than men in business and in government. Women are also more likely than men to say that female leaders in both politics and business outperform male leaders on most of the traits and characteristics tested in the survey. Those who identify with the Democratic Party, which dominates the ranks of elected female leaders at the federal and state levels today, also have more favorable impressions of the women who serve in leadership positions in government and in business. When it comes to political leadership, Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say that women do a better job than men on each of the attributes tested in the poll. Democratic women are also among the most enthusiastic about the possibility of having a female elected as president. The remainder of this report examines the current landscape of women in leadership in the U.S.
Young adults are more likely than older generations to say women with leadership aspirations might want to delay having children. This report explores public attitudes about gender and leadership with a particular focus on leadership in U.S. In addition to the surveys, this report draws on data from a variety of sources to document women in leadership positions in politics (national and state levels) and in business with trends over time. In many respects, professional business services are a bright spot for women in the workforce. One reason why women fail to reach the top management positions of professional services firms is that they face a set of challenges not typically encountered by men.
Somewhat smaller shares of the public say that being compassionate (57%), innovative (56%) or ambitious (53%) are essential for leadership. Nearly equal shares of each say being honest, intelligent, organized and decisive are absolutely essential, although women place somewhat more importance on intelligence and honesty than do men. Women are much more likely than men to say that being compassionate is absolutely essential in a leader: 66% of women say this, compared with 47% of men. Large majorities say that when it comes to intelligence and innovation, men and women display those qualities equally.
Fully two-thirds of all adults (65%) say being compassionate better describes women than men, while only 2% say this better describes men than women. Fully 48% say being organized is more true of women than men, while only 4% say this quality is found more in men than women (46% say it’s true of both). Some 29% of all adults associate honesty more with women than men, while 3% say honesty applies more to men than women.


Some 27% of adults say that men are more decisive than women, while only 9% see women as more decisive than men. More than eight-in-ten adults (86%) say intelligence is equally descriptive of men and women. And for those who say intelligence is an essential trait for a leader, 87% say this trait is found equally in men and women (compared with 86% among all adults). A strong majority of Americans (75%) say women and men make equally good political leaders. Men are slightly more likely than women to say that men make better political leaders (17% vs. Equal shares of Democratic men and women say that women make better political leaders than men (16%). Only 10% say women are better at legislative jobs like serving on the city council or in Congress, and 7% say women are better at executive jobs such as mayor or governor. Just over half (55%) say there’s no difference between male and female political leaders when it comes to working out compromises.
But many do see a gender difference: 26% say women in top political positions are better at this than their male counterparts, while 5% say men are better at this than women. While most adults (63%) say men and women serving in high-level political offices are about equal in this regard, 25% say female political leaders are better at doing this, and 10% say men are better.
Overall, 60% of adults say there is no difference between male and female political leaders in their ability to be persuasive.
Across the board, more women than men say that female leaders are better at the attributes tested in the poll. Baby Boomers and members of the Silent generation tend to have more a positive view of female leaders than do their younger counterparts. On each of the attributes tested in the poll, Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say that female leaders do a better job than men. Relatively few Republicans (10%) say men are better at working out compromises, but a majority (58%) say there isn’t any difference between men and women in this regard. In most cases, they are more likely than both Democratic men and Republican women to say that female political leaders do a better job than men. And most Americans (73%) say men and women in high political office perform about equally in this area. Roughly one-in-five (18%) say women in high political offices are better at handling this issue; half as many say men do a better job in this area.
Narrow majorities say men and women in high political office are equally capable in these areas: 57% for social issues and 56% for national security. Fully 37% of all adults say men are better at dealing with national security and defense; only 5% say women do a better job in this area. Women are more likely than men to say that female political leaders are better at dealing with social issues such as education and health care, and they are somewhat more likely to say that female leaders are better at handling economic conditions. Men and women agree that both genders are equally capable of leading in the business world, and there is general agreement on this across generations and partisan groups. Strong majorities say there is no difference between men and women when it comes to being an effective spokesperson for their company (77% see no difference) and negotiating profitable deals (73%). About three-in-ten adults (31%) say women in top executive positions are more honest and ethical than men; only 3% say men are better in this regard. Some 34% of the public says men in top executive positions are better at this than women; only 5% say women are better than men.
Women are more likely than men to say that female leaders are more honest and ethical than their male counterparts (35% of women say this, vs.
In addition, men are more likely than women to say there is no gender difference when it comes to being honest and ethical and providing fair pay and good benefits. Boomer women stand out in their belief that female business leaders are more honest and ethical than male leaders.
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say that women do a better job on many of the characteristics tested in the poll, although in most cases majorities from each party say there is no difference between men and women on these dimensions.
Some 47% don’t see a difference between men and women in their ability to run a software company or say it depends.
Among all adults, 37% say a woman would do a better job of running a major hospital, while 14% say a man would do a better job at this.
About three-in-ten adults (29%) say a woman would do a better job running this type of company, and 19% say a man would do a better job. In the case of a professional sports team, women are somewhat more likely than men to say that a female leader could do better job (11% vs. Three-in-ten adults (29%) say having more women in top leadership positions in business and government would do a lot to improve the quality of life for all women.
Fully 38% of women say having more women in top leadership positions would do a lot to improve the lives of all women; only half as many men (19%) agree. About four-in-ten Democrats (39%) say this would do a lot to improve the quality of life for all women.
While economic research and previous survey findings have shown that career interruptions related to motherhood may make it harder for women to advance in their careers and compete for top executive jobs, relatively few adults in the new Pew Research survey point to this as a key barrier for women seeking leadership roles.1 Only about one-in-five say women’s family responsibilities are a major reason there aren’t more females in top leadership positions in business and politics. Similar shares say the electorate and corporate America are just not ready to put more women in top leadership positions. About half (53%) believe men will continue to hold more top executive positions in business in the future; 44% say it is only a matter of time before as many women are in top executive positions as men. But among those who do draw distinctions, women are perceived to have a clear advantage over men in some key areas. Women have a somewhat narrower advantage over men when it comes to working to improve the quality of life for Americans and standing up for what they believe in despite political pressure.
Where they do see gaps, women have a clear advantage over men on honesty and ethics, providing fair pay and benefits, and offering mentorship to young employees. Women have made significant gains in educational attainment in recent decades, better positioning themselves not only for career success but also for leadership positions.
Four-in-ten of them (38%) say having more women in top leadership positions in business and government would do a lot to improve the quality of life for all women.
For their part, Republicans are not necessarily more likely to favor men in these areas, but they are more inclined to say there isn’t any difference between men and women. In most cases, they are more likely than both Democratic men and Republican women to say that female political leaders do a better job men. About two-thirds (65%) of women say their gender faces at least some discrimination in society today, compared with 48% of men who believe women face some discrimination. Most Americans (54%) say men would do a better job running a professional sports team, while just 8% say women would be better at this.
More than four-in-ten Millennials (46%) say a woman who wants to reach a top position in business is better off waiting to have children until she is well established in her career, while 29% say she should have children early in her career.
About half of Republican men (54%) say the country has made the changes needed to give men and women equality in the workplace. Women now comprise more than 40 percent of employees in services such as consulting, finance, and private equity, far more than in the past.
Honesty, intelligence and decisiveness are considered “absolutely essential” leadership qualities by at least eight-in-ten adults. Fully 63% of Millennial women and 61% of Gen X women consider ambition an essential leadership trait, compared with 53% of Millennial men and only 43% of Gen X men. When the analysis is narrowed to those respondents who consider a specific trait to be “absolutely essential” for a leader, similar-sized majorities see no difference between men and women.
Some 14% say men generally make better political leaders than women, and 9% say women make better leaders than men. One-in-five Republicans (22%) say that men make better political leaders than women; only 3% say that women make better leaders.
The vast majority (82%) say there is no difference, suggesting that women can serve equally well in either type of position. Among those who see a difference between men and women on this dimension of leadership, the balance falls clearly in favor of women. One-third (34%) say women in top political positions are more honest and ethical than men in top political positions. Beyond that, only a slightly higher share say women are better at this (21%) than say men are better (17%). And because the gender gap on these issues is much wider among older adults, the generational differences are driven almost entirely by women. Similarly, 39% of Boomer women and 35% of Silent women say that female leaders are better than their male counterparts at working to improve the quality of life for Americans. For their part Republicans are not necessarily more likely to favor men in these areas, but they are more inclined to say there isn’t any difference between men and women. Some 67% of Republicans, compared with 59% of Democrats, say men and women are equally able in this regard. Those who do see a gender difference in dealing with economic policy split fairly evenly between men and women when assessing who generally does a better job: 12% say men are better at handling economic conditions, and 14% say women do a better job. Very few women (5%) say that female leaders do a better job than their male counterparts in dealing with national security. And solid majorities see no difference between men and women on providing guidance or mentorship to young employees (66%), providing fair pay and good benefits (64%), being honest and ethical (64%) and being willing to take risks (58%). Similarly, 30% say women do a better job at providing fair pay and good benefits, while 5% say the same about men.


Fully 40% of Boomer women express this viewpoint, compared with 31% of both Millennial and Gen X women. Some 54% of all adults say a man would do a better job than a woman running a professional sports team, compared with only 8% who say a woman would do a better job at this.
An additional 41% say having more female leaders would improve all women’s lives at least somewhat. They were, however, allowed to volunteer responses such as “no difference,” “both equally good” or “depends.” The mode of interview (telephone vs. And according to a new Pew Research Center survey on women and leadership, most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, with many saying they’re stronger than men in terms of being compassionate and organized leaders. The survey also finds that the public is divided over whether a woman with leadership aspirations is better off having children early on in her career (36%) or waiting until she is well established (40%). For both of these characteristics, solid majorities say there is no difference between men and women.
Since the 1990s, women have outnumbered men in both college enrollment and college completion rates, reversing a trend that lasted through the 1960s and ’70s.
An additional 40% of women say this would have at least some positive impact on all women’s lives. Whether on compromise, honesty, backbone, persuasion or working for the benefit of all Americans, women are more likely than men to say female leaders do a better job. Chapter 1 lays out trends in female leadership in elected political office and in corporate America, as well as changes in the pipelines to top leadership positions. By contrast, four-in-ten Boomers and nearly half (48%) of members of the Silent generation say it’s better for a woman with high-level business aspirations to have children early on.
This trend is likely to continue, since women now earn more than 50 percent of higher education degrees in the US.But few such gains are apparent in the leadership of professional service firms. To find out, we conducted in-depth interviews with 19 of the most senior women in consulting, private equity and finance and asked them this question. Some 61% of women consider this trait to be absolutely essential in a leader, compared with 51% of men. Similarly, while 21% of the public says men are more ambitious than women, half as many (9%) say women are more ambitious than men. Among those who say this is an essential leadership trait, 61% say men and women display this trait equally (compared with 62% among all adults). Democrats lean the other way, although their views are more evenly distributed: 16% of Democrats say that women make better political leaders than men, while 9% say that men make better political leaders.
Republican women also lean toward men, though less heavily so: 17% say that men make better political leaders than women, while 4% say women make better leaders than men. Men and women agree that executive and legislative jobs are not better suited for one gender than the other. Some 34% of all adults say women serving in high-level political offices are better than men at working out compromises.
Fully 41% of women say that female leaders in high-level political offices are better at this; 27% of men agree. Younger generations of women are less likely to hold this view (22% of Millennial women and 24% of Gen X women).
Some 38% say women in high political office do a better job than men dealing with social issues such as education and health care. A majority of women (59%) say that there isn’t any difference between male and female leaders in this policy area (54% of men say the same). Women are also perceived to have an advantage in providing guidance or mentorship to young employees: 25% say women are better at this, while 7% say men are better.
About one-in-five adults (18%) say men in top business positions are better at this than women, while 7% say women are better at this. Similarly, more women than men say that female business leaders are better at providing fair pay and good benefits (34% vs. Boomer women along with their older counterparts—Silent generation women—are also more likely than younger generations of women to say that female leaders are better than male leaders at providing guidance or mentorship to young employees (34% of Boomer and Silent women vs. An additional 33% say there is no difference between men and women in this regard or that it depends.17 Similarly, 46% of the public says a man would do a better job running a large oil or gas company, compared with only 11% saying a woman would do a better job. However, even among women, half (51%) say a man would do a better job of running a pro sports team. About one-in-five (19%) say having more women in leadership would not do much to improve women’s lives, and 9% say it wouldn’t do anything at all. Independents fall squarely in the middle: 28% say having more female leaders would do a lot to improve the lives of all women. For their part, men are less convinced that female leadership has such wide-ranging benefits. For their part, solid majorities of men say there aren’t major differences between men and women men in these areas.
Chapter 2 looks at public attitudes on men, women and key leadership traits in both the political and business realms. But the public is two and a half times more likely to say a woman, rather than a man, would do a better job running a major hospital or a major retail chain. Even larger majorities of Democratic and independent women and Democratic men agree that gender parity is still a work in progress. Wendy Wang, senior researcher, and Anna Brown, research assistant, compiled the data for the chapter on female leadership.
Those who see a difference on this characteristic are evenly split over which gender has an advantage: 11% say innovation better describes women, and 12% say it’s more true of men. But strong majorities of both groups say men and women make equally good political leaders. Only 19% of men say having more women in top leadership positions would do a lot to improve all women’s lives, while 43% say this would improve women’s lives somewhat.
Nonetheless, they are somewhat more likely than women to give a nod to male leaders over female leaders on four of the five political leadership qualities tested in the poll.
And Chapter 3 explores the obstacles to leadership for women, as well as views about discrimination and the future of female leadership. 12-21, 2014, among a sample of 1,835 adults – 921 women and 914 men – 18 years of age or older.
Companies that fail to retain and promote women to top leadership positions experience a significant drain on resources and talent. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say that men and women are equally capable when dealing with national security issues.
Women are slightly better represented in corporate boardrooms than they are at the CEO level.
This compares with 46% of Democratic men, 20% of Republican women and 16% of Republican men. They must bring in new employees to balance the outflow of women, and they must reach deeper into the remaining ranks to fill management positions.
To be sure, for many Republicans this view may be more about the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency than about a major milestone for women, a perspective that likely influences the way they respond to this “hypothetical” question.
Furthermore, many of the women recognized that their strategies evolved over time as new challenges arose and elements in their lives changed. Beyond those basics, our interviewees emphasized three distinct imperatives.Cultivate authenticity while embracing your surroundingsThough women have come a long way, the traditional male-dominated office culture often persists.
In this environment, successful senior-level women may need to go the extra mile to assert themselves. You can’t expect it to adapt to you, and you can’t expect to be accepted if you constantly identify yourself as an outsider.”Nearly every woman found it challenging to thrive in a masculine culture while still feeling authentic.
Then you can look for a strategy that fits your personality and situation, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution.The women found different ways to fit in while staying true to themselves. Traditionally, senior business women have worn dark colored suits, but a London-based consulting partner noted, “others in the business are always going to see you as a woman, so you might as well wear clothes that make you happy.”Women can also use the opportunity to lead the conversation by connecting on topics that are important to them, such as family, hobbies or charity boards. They assume that a good job will be noticed, attributed and appreciated— and will ultimately lead to promotions.
But the further a woman gets in her career, the more critical networking and relationship building become.Our interviewees deliberately cultivated legitimacy and credibility within their firms.
A director at a top-tier private equity firm remarked that, in her experience, men who make quantitative mistakes during interviews are given the benefit of the doubt more often than women who make similar mistakes. The women stressed the need to continually build legitimacy and credibility with their coworkers to avoid these issues.
Our interviewees note that developing professional relationships often comes more naturally to men, as women tend to exclude themselves or allow others to exclude them.
For example, they tend to gravitate toward other women, when what they need is a network that is representative of the management team. As leaders, women need to take charge and be authoritative, assertive and decisive; but as women, they are expected to be gentle and compassionate. The COO of a private equity firm who felt that her petite frame and soft voice undermined her authority as a leader said that she used her sense of humor to assert herself as “one of the guys.”ConclusionThe women we interviewed honed their strategies over the course of their careers.
Karen Welt Steeves is manager of Bain’s Global Women’s Leadership Council and is based in Bain’s Boston office.



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