Forbes: Dec 15, 2022, Young Adults Are Biased Against Female Leaders, Survey Shows by Kim Elsesser
Bias against female leaders is on the rise, according to an international survey. Most worrisome, the study revealed younger generations have less progressive views about women in leadership roles than their parents or grandparents.
The Reykjavik Index for Leadership, an annual international study, examines how people perceive female leaders—and this year’s survey has nothing but bad news for women with leadership aspirations. A collaboration between Women Political Leaders, an advocacy group and Kantar Public, a public policy and consulting company, the survey questioned over 10,000 people in 14 countries.
Perceptions of female leaders declined last year for the first time since they started collecting data in 2018. Across the G7 countries, which include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S., fewer than half of respondents (47%) said they were very comfortable having a woman as the CEO of a major company in their country, down from 54% a year earlier.
And female politicians weren’t perceived as any more suitable for leadership than CEOs. Only 45% of those in the G7 felt very comfortable with a woman running their country, down from 52% in 2021. While women viewed female leaders slightly more positively than men, women still revealed substantial bias against their own sex.
The survey results also revealed a surprising generation gap. In the United States and most countries surveyed, younger people (ages 18-34) held the least progressive views towards gender and leadership. Compared to older people, younger generations are significantly less likely to think that men and women are equally suited for leadership positions.
Michelle Harrison, global CEO of Kantar Public, says that the data doesn’t explain the causes of the generational differences or the decrease in perceptions of female leaders. Still, she speculates it could be related to the current economic situation. “We know that during times of economic hardship, you tend to see people regressing to safer places,” she says. Reverting to traditional roles, like having men in positions of power, may make people feel safer in these times.
Despite efforts to promote gender equality, stereotypes, like those that suggest men are more suited for leadership than women, clearly endure. Nonetheless, caution should be taken when assessing how these evaluations play out in the hiring or election of female leaders. Psychologists have found that people are more likely to apply stereotypes when asked about female leaders in general, like in this study. But, when asked about an actual female leader they know, they are far less likely to use stereotypes. That’s because the more we know about someone, the less likely we are to stereotype them.
Still, stereotypes about female leaders clearly weigh on the minds of potential voters and employees around the world. And these biases undoubtedly impact elections, hiring decisions, pay inequities, promotions and everyday microaggressions.
On a more positive note, one small country serves as a great role model, indicating that gender equality gains are possible. Residents of Iceland exhibited far more equality than any other country surveyed.
When it comes to gender equality, Iceland does a lot right. It was the first country in the world to directly elect a female President, and in 2018, it became the first country to enforce equal pay. Its government also supports parents, which makes it easier for women to return to work after having children.
But Harrison says it’s also about Icelanders’ relentless efforts to challenge social norms. In Iceland, “it’s understood that it’s something that’s not yet finished. It is constant hard work,” she says.
For countries that want to reduce gender bias, Harrison believes that the solution isn’t just about helping young women. Ensuring that boys have sufficient opportunities is critical. “We’ve got to look after boys as well, so they can grow into men who don’t feel threatened…if we don’t get it right with young boys, there is no hope for gender equality in society,” she says.