Women Leaders: Fox News ✘: Obama ✔

Fox News Contributor Tammy Bruce leveraged her media access to annihilate President Obama’s assertion that women make better leaders than men. When women reject men that praise women in leadership, the Achilles heel of gender equality is evident. It’s called intra-gender bias – women biased against women. This isn’t new. It’s toxic to the advancement of women, but not new. 

Endeavoring to see how many people sight-unseen thought women were unqualified as leaders, a 2018 study found when women could speak anonymously, 28 percent agreed. If they had to self-identify, just 10 percent agreed. According to the Implicit Association Test, 76 percent of people believe men are better suited for careers, and women are better suited to be homemakers; that includes a lot of women. There are numerous John and Jane, or Howard and Heidi studies that show women are equal to the task of being biased against women. One study shows women with an edge over men as sexists. Sexists want to preserve traditional gender roles that keep women subordinated.

There are also plenty of studies that show women leaders are equal to, or more competent than, male leaders. Some support Obama’s assertion that women can and do make better leaders. For example, nations with more female national leaders enjoy a higher quality of life, and they are more likely to take on anti-corruption agendas and to address in earnest violence against women. Some show that firms with more women in the leadership mix deliver superior financial and innovation outcomes, and reduced discrimination in recruitment, promotion and retention. 

Many studies and surveys show that if women were given additional chances to lead, it’s likely there would be more superior outcomes to tout because employees prefer many qualities of women leaders. A large-scale study by Pershing and the Bank of New York Mellon found that employees prefer leaders who “listen, consult, ask questions; discern other’s needs; coach, facilitate and generate commitment; foster networks of communities; innovation through creativity, life-long learning and self-renewal; and service to others.” These are the qualities of women leaders. A 2012 study by Zenger Folkman found: “At every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap.”  

In 2019, an analysis of 360-degree reviews by Zenger Folkman found that women leaders outscored male leaders on 17 out of 19 capabilities. In a study of more than 2500 managers, Gallup found that “female managers in the U.S. exceeded male managers at meeting employees’ essential workplace requirements.” A Harris Poll found that Americans are looking for leaders with a new style, and 7 out of 10 Americans associate the qualities of that new style with women. 

In a study conducted in 2017 to determine if female behaviors in the workplace were responsible for their lack of promotions, the researchers concluded that their behaviors were not different. What was different was that women were treated differently – by men and women. “Gender inequality is due to bias, not differences in behavior.” 

This should surprise no one. Political and economic institutions are bastions of unconscious bias. How could they not be? They were originally built by and for men, and where retooling takes place it’s hardly transformational, and more akin to ad hoc initiatives like one-off unconscious bias training that — surprise — has been shown to exacerbate biases against women. Ostensible progress for women in the workplace can be compared to the game of whack a mole, where the moles are formidable, relentless patriarchal societies. Consider one outcome of #metoo: sexual harassment is down, but gender harassment is up. Women leaders are told they need to be more like male leaders and when they are, they are tarred with the double bind. Women that aspire to leadership face a jungle of unconscious biases like double binds, double standards, sexual harassment, gender harassment, and a stubborn belief that leaders are men and women are their subordinates. Worst of all, these women are regularly subjected to these discriminatory biases by men and women. 

Ambitious women need more powerfully influential male allies, conservative and liberal, like President Obama to go out on an unpopular limb to support women in leadership. What we need a lot less of, and so do political conservatives, is women with access to the media vilifying senior women leaders by creating fake news from cherry-picked new sources. People are influenced by this too, and it’s really unhelpful to the pursuit of gender equality.

Additional research links:

Zenger-Folkman, (2012). A Study in Leadership: Women do it better than men. Author. LINK

Zenger, Jack, Folkman, Joseph, (2019, June 25). Research: Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills. Harvard Business Review. LINK

Turban, S., Freeman, L., Waber, B. (2017, October 26). A Study Used Sensors to Show that Men and Women are treated Differently at Work. Harvard Business Review. LINK

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