Gender Bias and Substantive Differences in Ratings of Leadership Behavior: Toward a New Narrative

By Rob Kaiser and Dr. Wanda Wallace


Women make up about half of the U.S. workforce but fewer than 15% of corporate officers and 5% of CEOs. Much popular discussion about this disparity focuses on unconscious bias against women in leadership roles. The current study analyzed the presence of gender bias as distinct from substantive gender differences in ratings of the leadership behavior of a matched sample of 857 women and 857 men from upper-levels of management in 6 companies, representing 5 industries, based in the United States, Western Europe, and Australia. The results found virtually no evidence of bias against women leaders and some evidence of bias in favor of them.


Further, the analysis of substantive gender differences in behavior indicated that women used a more forceful operational style associated with the tactical management of execution whereas men used a more strategic-enabling style associated with senior organizational leadership. The findings are interpreted in terms of changing attitudes toward women in leadership and how current approaches to achieving parity in upper management may overlook the importance of the broadening career experiences women need to develop strategic leadership skills.


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