August 7, 2014

Perceptions about women bosses improve, but gap remains

Women may have made measurable progress in the workplace over the last few decades, yet old ways die hard. Women still lag when it comes to holding top managerial positions. And among those with a preference, both men and women say they prefer male bosses and co-workers.

FT_14.07.06_femaleBosses (1)Only 24 women (about 5%) currently are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, according to an analysis by Catalyst, a nonprofit seeking to expand opportunities for women. Yet this is up from 20 female CEOs in 2013, and only one in 1998. Less than 9% of top management positions are filled by women, and the rates have declined in some key sectors in recent years. A similar analysis by Catalyst last year — this one looking at Fortune 1000 companies — found 45 women CEOs, up from 16 a decade prior, but still less than 5% of all top jobs.

Gallup has been tracking gender preferences in the workplace since 1953, when fully two-thirds of American adults (66%) said they would prefer a male boss if they had a choice in a new job. Another 25% volunteered that it made no difference, and only 5% said they would prefer a female boss. As of November 2013, the gap has narrowed but remains. A plurality (41%) say it makes no difference, but the rest prefer a male boss over a female boss by 35%-23%. 

Women are the most likely to say they prefer a male boss, according to Gallup. Though half of men (51%) say they have no preference for the gender of their boss, only 32% of women agree. Fully 40% of women say they prefer a male boss compared with 27% who say they prefer a female boss, while 29% of men say they would prefer a male boss, compared with 18% who prefer a female boss.

Who Wants To Be Boss?This squares with the findings of a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. About three-quarters of men and women who are currently employed or have ever worked say they have no preference for working mostly with men or working mostly with women. Of those who do have a preference, though, both genders are more likely to prefer to work with men — a view that is especially pronounced among female employees.

The Pew Research survey also found that women were less likely than men to say they would like to be the boss or top manager one day or are already the boss (44% of women vs. 60% of men). In fact, 53% of women say they would not like to be the boss.

Although men across all age groups are more likely to aspire to be a boss or top manager, the gap between men and women is smallest among Millennials — those ages 18 to 32 in 2013. Among this generation, 70% of men who are not already a boss say they would like to be, compared with 61% of women.

Topics: Gender, Work and Employment

  1. Photo of Anna Brown

    is a research analyst focusing on social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.


  1. MBT3 years ago

    I’ve had both and find men to be generally more secure and comfortable in the role of boss. I know there are plenty of bad male bosses — I just never have had one and hope I’ve never been one.

    It would be useful if, in addition to reporting “what,” Pew would also give some insight into “why.” Why is there a preference for male bosses and why is it more common to females?

  2. Samantha O3 years ago

    I am so proud to see women making it in the workforce and fighting for inequality in terms of pay gaps. But, there is so much truth in this article. Over my 15 year career in marketing, & strategy, I’ve have worked with both men and women, and I have found working with women, and especially women bosses, to be very difficult. Emotions, ambitions, not letting others succeed, esp. women, has been the case. I really wish there was more of an open discussion about this – i.e., how insecure women can be, the need to one-up others, gossip & cattiness. Talk to women in advertising, public relations, fashion and see how this article is so true.

    So while I support female CEOs, I’m not sure that I would want to report into one.

  3. TC3 years ago

    Over my 50-year career, I never worked for a woman. But I sure worked for some lousy men! I noted along the way that most of the women I worked with and who worked “for” me preferred male bosses. That observation was consistent over all those years. There must be something built into our genes that pulls/pushes us in that direction. The Bible says God made a man first, saw that he was not complete and made a woman to be his “completion” or help-meet; not a door mat, servant or an object. The feminist movement of the 60’s and afterwards alleged that women were only “fulfilled” who succeeded in professional pursuits, not in motherhood, being a wife and “subordinating” herself to a man. Like men, some women make good leaders, many don’t. My personal observation is that the better leaders were “born” that way (whether male or female) and many were convinced by seminars, talking heads and other “experts” that leadership could be learned and consisted of proven techniques, approaches and processes which they practiced deligently, but the necessary “connection” with people didn’t happen, so they were either ineffective, became tyrants or they sounded good, but didn’t produce. I think leadership is both an art and a science; some are great at it; the other 80%, not so much – – – no matter which gender they are.

  4. Packard Day3 years ago

    Just a thought here, but perhaps…just perhaps, perception might even be an indication of reality. Not that it ever would, of course.

    1. Susannah Lee Myers3 years ago