Women have something to teach men about leadership

Lauren BendittVice President of Research
Ann ComoglioVice President of Research
April 27, 2021, 2:20 PM UTC

With Kamala Harris’s election as the first woman to hold the office of Vice President of the United States, a national discussion on women in leadership has come to the fore. The persistent gender disparity among leaders, whether in occupational, community, or political settings, suggests that people look for specific traits when assessing leadership potential. 

The discourse around reducing underrepresentation of women in leadership has focused on what women need to do -- or do better -- to become leaders. This emphasis on missing skills leaves out the qualities that women do bring to these roles, and also diverts attention away from the skills that men are advised to develop as they pursue leadership opportunities.

The YouGov Social Change Monitor asked Americans what advice they would give men and women who want to pursue leadership roles in the future. Americans are about equally likely to advise both men and women to work hard (45% for both genders), build skills through experience or training (36-38%), make connections and build social networks (20-22%), find and work with a mentor (13%) and obtain recommendations from others (5-6%). 

Yet, Americans are more likely to advise men than women to demonstrate integrity (37% vs. 32%) and empathy (27% vs. 14%), indicating that men should emulate soft skill leadership qualities common to women. Conversely, women are more likely than men to be advised to build their leadership hard skills through education (25% vs. 21%).   

The distinctions between advice given to men and women are more stark among those who recognize gender inequality, the more than one-third of Americans (37%) who say that being a woman hurts a person’s ability to get ahead. This group is nearly twice as likely to advise women to take risks (17%) and work with a mentor (20%) than they are to give the same guidance to men (9% and 12%, respectively).

By contrast, the top piece of advice people who recognize gender inequality would give to men is to demonstrate integrity (43%), while it is only the fifth ranked piece of advice for women (34%). This group is also more than twice as likely to advise men to be empathetic (38%) as they are to give the same advice to women (15%). 

These findings indicate that the characteristics associated with leadership potential in men are not the only attributes perceived to be valuable in leaders. That women are not advised to develop empathy and integrity suggests that they are already considered to demonstrate these leadership characteristics, whereas the advice to have the courage to take risks can elevate them as prospective leaders.  For men, building empathy and the ability to show integrity as they move into leadership roles may make them more attractive candidates.

Related: Would America be better with more women in charge?

Methodology: Data collected March 10 - March 29, 2021, The sample for this poll was 3,000 US Adults.

Image: Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels