What Employees Really Think About Women in Leadership Positions (for Better or for Worse)

female company leader giving all-hands presentation

Although the majority of workplace leadership positions are still held by men, women are increasingly taking on these roles. As of a 2020 study conducted by Catalyst, the proportion of women in senior management roles globally had reached 29%, with 87% of global mid-market companies having at least one woman in a senior management role. And although progress is being made when it comes to opportunities for women to fill leadership roles, are workers’ attitudes evolving along with this?

Take a Look: The Gender Wage Gap Through the Years
Read: COVID-19 Has Undone Decades of Progress for Women Workers

To find out, ResumeLab surveyed over 800 American workers about their views on women in management positions — here’s what they discovered.

Attitudes Toward Women Managers Tend To Be Positive

Of the over 800 workers surveyed, 90% had worked in a team led by a female manager and 59% currently do. Those that had worked with female managers gave positive feedback — 70% found their female manager to be effective, and 49% of that group said their female manager was highly effective.

The survey also found that workers actually prefer working with a female boss to a male boss — 38% prefer a female boss, 26% prefer a male boss and 35% have no preference. This could be because a larger proportion of workers think women make better leaders than men — 38% said that women are better in leadership positions versus 35% who said that men are better leaders.

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In addition, 67% of the survey respondents said they feel positively about women managing their team, and 62% feel positively about women leading their organization.

Compare: Here’s How Much Men vs. Women Earn at Every Age

“It turns out many factors contribute to a positive perception of women in managerial positions,” said Bart Turczynski, editor-in-chief at ResumeLab. “Respondents emphasized that women tend to be genuine, kind, patient, subtle and more understanding, while being assertive and focused on the target. Another mentioned advantage of women is that they are generally good communicators and can handle stressful situations very smoothly. It’s also usually easy to share thoughts with female managers, as they’re empathetic and understand the demands of running the family and having children.”

Women Leaders Are Held to Higher Standards

Even though the majority of workers believe that women are capable leaders — and a good portion actually prefer working for women — many workers also acknowledge that women are held to higher standards. According to the survey, 55% of American workers strongly agree that women in managerial positions are often held to higher performance standards than men.

Read More: States With the Biggest (and Smallest) Gender Pay Gap

Men Are Less Enthusiastic About Female Leaders Than Women

Although the overall attitudes about women managers are positive, the survey found that men are less supportive of women in leadership positions than women are.

  • Only 28% of men would prefer to work for a female manager, versus 48% of women.
  • Just over half of men (53%) would feel positive or very positive about having women leaders in their organization, versus 72% of women.
  • Only 17% of men would trust a woman more than a man to lead a company.
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Check Out: High-Paying Jobs Where Women Outnumber Men

The Media Plays a Role in Our Feelings About Women Leaders

The media and popular culture likely play a role in any negative attitudes workers hold about women leaders. Most respondents (57%) agree that the media and popular culture usually present men as the leaders in the workplace, and when women are shown as leaders, it’s usually presented as being an exception or curiosity. And most (52%) also agree that women are over-represented in support roles like administrative positions. When these are the images that are constantly being portrayed, it’s understandable why some workers would not feel that women are suitable for leadership positions.

“Even though #girlboss has been trending in social media since 2014 and #femalefounder has (hit) its peak in popularity in recent years, the contemporary media still creates an image of women leaders as a sensation and a curiosity,” Turczynski said. “The widespread emphasizing that you are a ‘female boss’ or a ‘female founder’ while being a positive phenomenon proves that there is still a lot to do regarding gender equality. After all, we aim for a situation where gender won’t be a qualifier of achievement.”

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Read More: 4 Essential Tips for Moms Re-Entering the Workforce

Workers Hold Both Positive and Negative Stereotypes About Women Leaders

There are certain stereotypes about men and women that play into what workers perceive to be strengths and weaknesses about women leaders.

  • 44% think women managers are more understanding of mistakes made at work.
  • 45% believe that women follow their emotions when making decisions, while men follow logic.
  • 57% agree that female managers are better at communication.

While not all of these stereotypes are bad, it still shows that there is work to be done when it comes to considering a person’s leadership abilities independent of what their gender may be.

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Last updated: June 23, 2021

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About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 
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