Are women reinforcing the glass ceiling?

17 October 2014 -


US research indicates female workers could actually be standing in the way of female advancement, by preferring male bosses

Jermaine Haughton

Women are more likely to want a male boss than a female one, according to a new US study from Gallup. Based on responses from 1,032 American adults, the pollsters found that 25% of women would prefer a female boss in the event of changing jobs, compared to 39% who would be happier to make the switch if they ended up with a male manager.

Gallup sourced its data in August, as part of its annual Work and Education poll. According to the findings, American males and females demonstrated a preference for male managers – although, compared to women, just 14% of men said they would prefer a female boss.

While the research focused on gender dynamics in the US, it at the very least provides interesting insights for British observers on the various issues at play. This is particularly important, as the drive for gender equality in leadership positions at major companies has become more prominent in the past five years. In the UK, 22.8% of directors of FTSE 100 companies are now female, according to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, while in June it emerged that the number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had reached a historic high of 4.8%.

The effort to boost boardroom diversity at home and abroad is far from complete, but Gallup’s discovery that 39% of women would prefer a male boss suggests that one major factor that could be working against female careers is in fact prejudice from other women.

Encouragingly, though, workers with female bosses are more likely than those with male bosses to say they would prefer to have a female boss again in a new job (27% v 15%). Age and political leanings may also have an effect. Younger Americans are slightly more likely than older Americans to prefer a female boss – but preference for a male boss is consistent between the two groups. Meanwhile, Republicans (centre-right politically) are more likely to prefer a male boss (42%) to a female boss (16%), but Democrats (centre-left) tend to be more narrowly split: 29% prefer male, while 25% prefer female.

Inaugurated in 1993, the Gallup survey provides an interesting gauge on the change (or lack thereof) in views about male and female bosses. In 1953, 66% of Americans said they preferred a male boss, 5% said they preferred female and a quarter said it made no difference. Remarkably, in the history of Gallup’s report, the percentage of women who would prefer female bosses has never surpassed 25%.

For more on these issues, check out the details of this forthcoming CMI seminar Manage Like A Girl – planned in association with the Women in Management network.

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