How Real Is The ‘Woman Card’ In Leadership?

Featured Columnist: Georgene Huang, Co-Founder of Fairygodboss.

I write about what women care about and their experiences in the workplace. Using the stories and data that women share with the Fairygodboss community, I’ll reveal what women think about employer policies, practices and culture. By better understanding what helps (or hurts) half the labor force, we’ll be able to build better workplaces and more successful businesses. Follow us at @fairygodboss

In the past few months of his Presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump has said variations of the following about Hillary Clinton:“The only card she has is the woman card.” Commentators have  generally attacked his line of reasoning as sexist, or something that could strategically backfire on him. Of course, most of the prevailingpolling evidence is that women do support Hillary Clinton in greater numbers than Mr. Trump. But do women support Clinton simply because she’s female?

The media certainly seems to suggest a certain amount of this gender narrative. For example, NPR recently proclaimed that “the 2016 Presidential Election could boast a historic gender gap.” This observation reflects the fact that Trump is polling particularly poorly with women and those women may turn to Clinton.

SOURCE: GALLUP (1952 THROUGH 1972), ROPER CENTER (1976 THROUGH 2012), NBC/WSJ POLL (RELEASED MAY 23, 2016). CREDIT: DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN/NPR

However, women’s preferences for Clinton may not have much to do with her gender.Several studies have shown that gender doesn’t play into people’s votes nearly as much as their party affiliation.

All of this focus on gender during this political season caused me to explore how much gender matters in leadership, more broadly. How often do women really support other women leaders due to their shared gender, and why would this be the case?

In the book The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the World, authors John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio surveyed 64,000 people in 13 countries about the characteristics and traits that people believe are most important for leaders to possess. Those surveyed showed a strong preference for selflessness, empathy and loyalty in their leaders, which the respondents deemed “feminine values.” Of course, these values are facially gender neutral, as both men and women can be empathetic, loyal and prioritize the greater good over self.

So do women really have a preference for female leaders, or simply those with certain characteristics that are stereotypically female? Fairygodboss’ recent analysis of women’s workplace leadership preferences reveals that women don’t necessarily prefer a leader simply because she is female. In fact, a plurality (40%) of the women we polled say they don’t think the gender of their bosses matters.

 

FAIRYGODBOSS SURVEY: DO YOU BELIEVE MALE OR FEMALE BOSSES ARE MORE SUPPORTIVE?

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