Academic studies can be fascinating… and totally confusing. So we decided to strip away all of the scientific jargon and break them down for you.
While some women have been able to break through the glass ceiling, far too often women are stereotyped as the more “emotional” sex and therefore less suited for leadership than men. This antiquated B.S. was summarized by researcher Virginia E. Schein, who in 1973 found that when people “think manager” they “think male.” This means that, by virtue of their gender, women are perceived as less competent than their male coworkers, which can lead them to being passed over for managerial positions — whether or not they actually possess the traits that supposedly make them awful, cranky leaders.
In a new study, researchers from the German Police University wanted to see how strong this bias was, and if people truly considered women too emotional to be good leaders.
Researchers surveyed 1,098 working men and women. These people were given a list of 17 emotions used in the past to study both managers and the gender stereotyping of emotions (i.e. joy, surprise, envy, fear and sympathy). The survey asked people how characteristic each of these emotions were for either successful managers, men in general, women in general, male managers, female managers, successful male managers or successful female managers. People were only asked about one target group — not all seven — and they rated how common these emotions were for that group on a scale of one to five.
The researchers found “very clear gender-stereotyping effects.” Both men and women tended to believe that women lacked the emotional qualities considered essential for good leadership.
Women in general were perceived as having fear, guilt, shame and sadness, four emotions associated with bad leadership, according to the study. But when women in the survey were labeled as managers, people assigned them fewer of these emotions.
On the other hand, men in general were described as having the emotional qualities of strong leaders no matter what. Meaning: Men were assumed to be good managers, but women had to prove they were good managers. In fact, the only people in the study who described men and women somewhat similarly were actual female managers who were surveyed.
The researchers didn’t look at how the people surveyed actually behaved towards women, so it’s hard to be sure of the real-world effects of holding such sexist biases. But the study’s results suggest that defaulting women as emotional basketcases might not be so benign. As the researchers wrote, “these stereotypes are a strong barrier for women’s career development” and “may result in prejudice and devaluation of their work performance.”
Still not convinced? Take a look at the numbers: Even though women earn 60 percent of both graduate and undergraduate degrees, they only make up 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board members and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
Putting these statistics in the context of this study, it seems that not only do women have to do the work of getting to the top — they also have to convince skeptics along the way that they’re not sad, weak leaders. If that’s not emotional strength, then what is?
BEFORE YOU GO
11 Books From Your Childhood That Celebrate Strong Women