Americans widely believe that men have a better shot at leadership positions in business and politics, even as majorities say that men and women make equally good leaders. There is little consensus, however, on why women remain underrepresented in these fields.
About four-in-ten believe higher standards for women and lack of readiness by companies to hire women for top positions and by voters to elect women to higher office are major reasons that there aren’t more women in top leadership roles in business and politics. Other reasons, such as family responsibilities, inexperience, or women not being tough enough, are cited less frequently as significant barriers to female leadership.
The public expresses some skepticism about whether women will be able to overcome the obstacles that keep them out of top leadership positions, at least in business. About half (53%) don’t think women will achieve parity with men in top executive business positions in the foreseeable future; 44% say that as more women move into management roles, it’s only a matter of time before there are as many women as men in top corporate leadership positions.
Do Women Have an Equal Shot at Top Leadership Positions?
About two-thirds of Americans, including majorities of men and women alike, say it is easier for men than women to get elected to high political offices and to get top executive positions in business, but women are more likely to express this view. About three-quarters of women say men have a better shot at these roles, compared with about six-in-ten men, a pattern that is repeated across generations.
For example, Millennial and Boomer women are 13 percentage points more likely than their male counterparts to say it is easier for men to get top executive positions in business; there is a 14-point gender gap among Gen Xers and a 17-point gap among the Silent generation on this question. Similarly, there are double-digit gender gaps across generations on views that it is easier for men to get elected to high political offices.
Across party lines, majorities say men have an advantage when it comes to getting top executive jobs in business and being elected to high political offices, but Democratic, Republican and independent women are considerably more likely than men in their respective groups to say this is the case.
About eight-in-ten Democratic and independent women and seven-in-ten Republican women say it is easier for men to get top positions in business and politics, at least 13 percentage points higher than the share of men in the corresponding groups.
Barriers to Female Political Leadership
If Americans think men and women make equally good political and business leaders but say men have an advantage when it comes to getting top positions in these realms, what do they think is holding women back?
While there is no clear consensus, about four-in-ten (38%) say a major factor is that women who run for office are held to higher standards than men and need to do more to prove themselves. About an equal share (37%) say many Americans aren’t ready to elect a woman to higher office, and 27% say women who are active in party politics get less support from party leaders. Still, at least a third say these are not reasons that there aren’t more women in high political offices.
Women are generally more inclined than men to see higher expectations, voter hesitation and lack of institutional support as major obstacles to female political leadership. Fully 47% of women believe women who run for office are held to higher standards and have to do more to prove themselves, compared with 28% of men who see this as a major reason that more women are not in top elective office.
Across generations, women are more likely than men to say that uneven expectations are a major obstacle to female political leadership. The gap is particularly pronounced among Baby Boomers; Boomer women are about twice as likely as Boomer men to offer this view (52% vs. 25%).