Men make better leaders than women – really?

By | September 20, 2012

Angel and DevilDr Robert Perrett, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management he has been awarded a Fellowship from the British Academy to carry out research on gender proportionality and inequalities

What do men and women really think about each other as leaders?

Whatever people might think privately, you do not expect in this day and age to hear that many still think men are better leaders than women.  Or do you?

This was the finding of some research we carried out with a group of students from around the world at Bradford University School of Management – students on a new MSc module in human resource management.

We carried out a detailed online gender equality survey – which had a 100% response rate.

Some of the results were quite shocking.  While there is certainly evidence of improved attitudes towards women in work, it is apparent that many of the old myths still have not been dispelled.  All the old stereotypes emerged and reading the results, you might wonder which decade this survey was carried out in?

Look at the table below.  Given the bald statement, ‘men make better leaders than women’ we had an astonishing six out of ten men saying they agreed.  A mere one in ten of the men disagreed.

At least the women believe in themselves.  Nearly seven out of ten don’t think men are better leaders.  Interestingly 20% of both the men and women couldn’t agree or disagree with this statement.

Men make better leaders than women

Next, let’s look at how men and women view who should be doing the housework.  We said ‘women should take on the majority of household chores’ to see what response that would trigger.

Shockingly again, nearly half of the men said yes, women should take on most of the household chores – and only around 20% disagreed.  Just one in ten of the women felt they should take on most of the chores.

Women should take on the majority of the household chores

Women should take on the majority of the household chores

When asked about whether companies design jobs that reinforce gender roles, men think not – women think they do.   Six out of ten women said yes, jobs are designed to reinforce gender roles but nearly half of the men sat on the fence, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

The way companies design jobs reinforces gendered roles

The way companies design jobs reinforces gendered roles

The gender bias continues – even when the students were asked about something more generic, such as are men and women equally committed to their jobs.  Six out of ten men said they could not decide – they neither agreed nor disagreed.

Men are more committed to their jobs than women

Men are more committed to their jobs than women

Given all the above, the next finding will not perhaps surprise you?  We asked whether men and women have different negotiating skills.  Sixty per cent of the men said women were worse negotiators than men – but so did a quarter of women think this.

Women are worse negotiators than men

Women are worse negotiators than men

It should be emphasised that this research is not representative of any particular group of people – other than our global students.

Forty students took part, and of these

–          20% were men

–          The students were generally in their late 20s and early 30s

–          They came from all around the world:  52% Africa; 21% UK; 12% Middle East; 6% Far East; 6% Europe;  3% USA

There is a danger that we assume gender attitudes to work today are very different from, say in Victorian Times.  But we have to acknowledge the enormous influence of different cultures around the world – and these affect all of us in today’s multi-cultural workforces.

How surprising are the findings of our survey?  Do they matter – and how much should we seek to change and influence inherent attitudes?  Do they make a difference to HR management, employee relations and business performance?

27 thoughts on “Men make better leaders than women – really?

  1. Andres Romano

    Nowadays is interesting to find this type of research and the most shocking stuff are mainly the results… The only ways to change the trends are basically reinforcing best company practices in the markets. Parents and schools all over the world should start now creating a different view in terms of gender equality!…

    We as leaders are responsible to balance organizations to break paradigms and redefine those habits in the business environment!

  2. Summer Qin

    The findings of the survey is not surprised as people around me have the similar opinions.

    Most of men feel they are better than women in leading and most of the leaders in the government, companies are men instead of women.

    But is it true?

    I don’t think so.

    Why do we have so many male leaders instead of female?

    One of the reason is women are occupied by other tasks.
    For example, women take most of the house working and women pay more time with children. They don’t have extra energy to take more responsibility in the companies or governments.

    Another reason is people have the sterotype that men are better than wemen. When they recruit the positions as a leader, the first choice is men instead of women.

    How to change this?

    Firstly , women need to be liberated from the house working and baby care. Men should take more responisiblity in house.
    Secondly, women need to get more opportunities to be a leader. When HR recruit the leaders, they should firstly choose women instead of men.
    Finally, we need change the sterotype in our mind, especially women’s mind that only men can be the leader. Women should be confident that women can do the same job as men and even better!

  3. David Ng

    This is not a shocking result as argument of men vs. women had been long saga. It is more on the country, culture and education exposure to individual. I had to agree women are getting more into key position sit in the corporate world. In fact some are doing very well.

    It don’t really matter, we do not need to influence any changes. This saga will continue, our living environment is constantly changing, let the natural change it. Basically both genders need each other to survive.

    Generally yes, it make different in an organization function. Woman are generally more emotional build, their natural skill of listening is very much higher than man. In an organization certain function is require such skill to drive success.

  4. Lemon Liu

    It’s make me shocking because of this survey is done in West, I will not be surprise if it’s done in China, Korea and Japan. It seems Man Vs Women is a global topic.

    For who is the best for leaders, I am a women, but I rather say men is better than women if he is leader a plant /group. We all saw these is a few lady play a very goold leadship, But it’s limited ladies I think. It’s much less than good man leaders. The view of women will different with mans when the stuff going up to big events.

    For the housework, it’s should be take by women and man together except the women is not work outside.

    For the job commitment and neogiate skill, it’s none of women or man, it’s depend on differnt people’s charactistic. I would like to say woman has a very good attritute — pressure resistance

  5. Struan Brownlie

    This is an interesting subject and an increasingly sensitive one also. There has been much debate on the Male/Female divides and biases in the modern workplace; and recently there has been data published in business editorials around the numbers of Women on Boards of Directors within Organisations.

    This is something that does have to be addressed, and may be helped by the revised version of the Code of Corporate Governance (Formally the combined code). Essentially, the code is a guide rather than a prescriptive set of rules that outline the spirit of good Corporate Governance is to have a balance on the boards/management teams running business operations. In particular, the principle of Diversity is probably most relevant here. The general feeling is that Boards are male dominated, and this feeling can be backed up by facts as well – the vast majority of UK listed companies have a higher proportion of male Directors. So much so, that the UK policy makers have considered setting targets for companies to have a definitive percentage of females on the board by a set date.

    Sadly, this does not answer why the attitudes displayed in the survey feedback are what they are – it’s merely just another facet of the Male/Female leadership argument. This all comes down to personal opinion and the culture and experiences that the individual has been brought up and developed in.

    However, in terms of balance the spread of the candidates canvassed for the above feedback plus the manner in which the questions have been worded require to be considered to gauge the overall relevance of the response. For example 32 of the 40 surveyed were Female. Moreover, most of the questions start ‘Men are/Would’ and ‘Women are/Should’; this type of question setting may be seen to provoke an answer skewed towards one side of the scale.

    In closing, it could be concluded that if males dominate the leadership positions in organisations, then females have less opportunity to develop leadership skills. This may make it harder for females to be seen as successful leaders, and may partly explain some attitudes toward females as leaders.

  6. Angus Macleod

    I don’t think it matters the gender of a leader. The most important thing is the characteristics. It doesn’t matter if you male or female, if you don’t have the right attitude or earn the respect of your team then you won’t be a good leader.

    In my opinion, a leader should be a good decision maker, a good team player and be able to show humility and respect to the people they work with or manage. Of course, there are other important characteristics which make great leaders, but my point is that the characteristics are not down to gender, they are down to the people themselves.

  7. James

    Interesting but not surpised!!

    What is the sample size and countries represented and what model (s) were used to test for robustness??

    Has it been tested for (a) nationality effect, (b) sector or industry effect, (c) effects arising from institutional/ cultural differences??

    The results are, I think, not surprising but some additional info like the above will paint a better picture…maybe??



  8. Sarah Dixon

    Well I think women make better leaders than men – but then I would! Dr Perrett’s research results are shocking, but are they really so surprising? Men and women have equally high opinions of their respective leadership capabilities. The real issue is in the workplace, not in people’s mutual perceptions of each other’s capabilities. Since historically men have always occupied senior leadership positions, and view themselves as most suited for these roles, then it makes it difficult for women to progress, as men will recruit to top posts in their own image.
    The Davies report provided evidence for the benefits of having greater diversity on company boards. So I withdraw my flippant remark that women make better leaders – in fact what we need is the appropriate mix of talents. Increasingly in leading companies we are beginning to see a better gender mix in the higher echelons – we are not there yet, but the issue is acknowledged and can therefore be addressed actively by all of us in our own organisations.

  9. Martin Brennan

    First off, I have to admit I do not find these results surprising at all. I am not saying I agree with the findings, far from it actually, but I don’t feel as if significant changes have occurred in recent years that drastically reverses the opinions of years ago.

    I also don’t agree with the question regarding jobs reinforcing gender roles. I think recently this has changed dramatically, and there a lot more women in what predominantly used to be ‘male dominated’ industries. The best and most powerful example I can give is someone like Sarah Palin (Republic running mate to John McCain at the last US elections) or Hillary Clinton (current US Secretary of State, and in my opinion a future president of the United States of America). Both of these women have earned very prominent government positions in what is the most powerful country in the world.

    Extreme examples? I don’t think so. I think that highlights that if they have made it into these positions then there is a definite ‘change’ in the modern day world.

    I am also unsure of the ‘gender bias’ that this research says exists in that men are more committed to their jobs than females, to me I view both as equally committed as each other, but I don’t necessarily think that there is a gender bias because of the results to the question. I am unsure what that answer proves.

    I also think that the questions on commitment and negotiating skills are in my opinion not gender specific at all, it all comes down to the individual person involved, as it is an individual characteristic trait.

    I also find it interesting as to the whereabouts of the people who were surveyed, as only 30% were from ‘the west’ with 52% people from Africa. I think had there been a bigger percentage of people surveyed from the ‘West’ then they would have found less shocking results, and it is like David said, different cultures and countries have different opinions and mentalities, and some cultures/religions have a much greater gender bias than others.

    So in conclusion, unfortunately I don’t find these results terribly surprising. I think there will always exist a ‘gender bias’, although I think recently in modern day society it has been proven across the world that this is improving greatly.

  10. Wendy Wang

    This topic has been discussed since a long time, I believe even in modern world, some people still think men make better leader than women. The reason why people have this concept is men is charging the world for too long time, regardless of Eastern or Western, years ago, women are doing housekeeping only, and men are doing work out. Slowly the situation change, women start working outside and share the equality with men, but still the old concept are kept in people’s mind.

    From the above so many investigation, it is obvious that the gender discrimination is still existing. If a woman is doing a good job, people will think how she get it; if she is a not good job, people will think that is why she is a woman. However why people think men make better leaders than women, I think it is because most women still focus in the “family” not “job”, they sacrifice the energy, passion to serve the family which allows little time to focus on work, that is why when we overview the business, seven out of ten leader are men who has good family with wife taking care of family, and three of ten leaders are women who may be guilty to pay less attention to husband and children.

    Generally speaking, women do not have less intelligent than men, but if a family faces the choice for couple, women are always the person to sacrifice their job and serve.

  11. Louise Evans

    Just to be contentious…….!

    What is the actual point of this research? Sometimes the best way to change prejudices is to ignore them!

    I have spent years making sure my children (both girls – now teenagers) take absolutely no notice of other people’s expectations and assumptions when it comes to deciding what they want to do. They are lucky in that they attend a school which treats girls and boys as equals – where just as many girls do science at “A” levels as boys and which as a culture of “you can achieve anything you set your mind to”. And this works – we generally get out of life what we expect to get.

    When I chair a meeting it never crosses my mind what the men around the table think. The knowledge that some of them may feel that women can’t lead is not relevant or useful to me. I would not change my behaviour nor my strategy. And anyway – with most prejudices, people don’t realise that they subconsciously make exceptions for individuals – they will justify it by thinking “despite being a woman, she is a good leader – it must be because she acts like a man”. I can live with that!

    So do we still need these statistics? Ignoring prejudices can sometimes be as effective as tackling them head on (as illustrated perfectly with the effectiveness of Scout’s naive remarks to the racist neighbours in To Kill a Mocking Bird).

  12. Laura White

    The results are not surprising; gender inequality does still exist, despite what many people say.

    However, like a few others have mentioned, surely the validity of this survey needs to be questioned. To me, the results are negligible, as the spread of participants would give biased results and 40 responses cannot provide a true reflection of society’s beliefs. To get more significant data and create a stronger argument, the survey should have been posed to people from a variety of industries at different levels (from roots to management), covering several continents and cultures.

    Nonetheless, like Angus has pointed out, leadership has got nothing to do with gender. It is based on the individual and it is having the desired qualities such as being respected, listening well, making key decisions, etc, that is important.

    Men are “seen” as being better leaders by some, due to historical factors and the “old boy’s network”. In the past, men were in leadership positions because they were hired by male family or friends which they in turn perpetuated. I still think it can be a case of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. For example, how often is business carried out on the golf course?

    However, I do agree with Wendy’s point regarding family life. It is generally the case that the woman is expected to stay home with the children while the man works. This can obviously influence the career progression of many women.

    The fact is, women typically have to work harder in business to even be earmarked for a leadership role. I think the situation has improved over time, but it is still extremely difficult for women to get high level leadership positions. Even in my own company, the balance of male to female high level leaders is very much titled in the men’s favour.

    So in order to eradicate these stereotypical views, business needs to keep evolving and men need to realise that women are just as capable of doing similar roles. At the same time however, I tend to disagree with the policy whereby a definitive number of women should be on the board (as mentioned in Struan’s post). I don’t really agree with positive discrimination in the work place as I think a candidate should be selected solely on their abilities and attitude, regardless of gender.

  13. Peter Szeidemann

    My first thought was, why is this still a topic and why would this be researched? The more the media speaks about it the more this old stereotype will stay alive.
    The research indeed was not representative at all. Students were asked, who had no work experience and therefore I think what they said is not based on the actual findings, but rather on what they have been taught of.
    I have 15 years of work experinece, if I would have asked these questions, I would say being a great leader is not about gender. In our management team this split is 50-50%. I’d agree that some positions are more suited to a woman or for a man, but being a leader is not a position. We all lead by influencing others, delivering our promises and make examples to who we lead.

  14. MS

    This is simply opinions of individuals, whilst the World is so focused on “equal” rights and championing equal rights, however this just works one way, rights for women whilst men are losing rights.

    Men are facing more and more inequalities on a daily basis in comparison to women in law. From jobs such as daycare providors and nanny’s men face huge inequalities, all the way to marriage where only in 6% of the cases do men get custody of their children and the list goes on and on.

    Equal rights should be focused on equality, not attacking men in anyway possible to make it seem that women are better then them. Plus rather then focusing so much on equality (Which we’ll never achieve) we should celebrate our differences as both men and women are born differently.

  15. Vincent Chiang

    I believe men are dominated by perceptions. It is just like “men are more into engineering yet women are better at art” when we were in school.

    Wendy did make a point that women focus a lot in family. I would say sometime it is “restricted” by family. Women have to bear the baby for ten month and I think this is the greatest job in the world. However, women are often restricted by this divine obligation.

    I believe in women are no less intelligent or less in any other attribute in men. If men and women perform equally, they should be judged only by their performance but not genders.

  16. Dr Robert Perrett

    What a fantastic response, thanks to all who have commented and keep them coming in. I’m sorry I have not yet had time to respond to each of these blogs as they have come in but workload has been very high recently. However, I will endeavour to comment on each blog over the course of this week – evenings mainly, I have very little in the way of a work-life balance. I hope you all don’t mind, where there is a recurring theme I will post a general blog addressing that theme first and then come back to more specific issues as they link in. There are some excellent comments and it is apparent that some of you are thinking well beyond the confines of the workplace and are looking to systemic and societal issues which is great to see. First theme I shall address first thing in the morning is methodological concerns, ecological and population validity.

  17. Dr Robert Perrett

    Morning all.

    Well done for those of you that picked up on methodological issues and issues of population validity. I know there are a mix of undergrads and post grads responding so I will try to cater for both.

    Throughout your study at University you will be expected to compile literature reviews as part of your research, and it is essential that you review not only the key findings but also the methods adopted and any critiques of these. It is your job as a critical researcher to identify such weaknesses.

    Some of you correctly identified that this survey was small, just 40 students and thus questioned its capacity to generalise the findings to a wider population. Just for clarity, this was a small descriptive exercise to stimulate debate (which it has) with no intention to generalise to too wide a population – my actual survey incorporates 10,000 respondents from the wider population. Implications for Masters students, when you are undertaking your surveys for your dissertations you need to be aiming (s a general rule) potentially for over 200 responses – to be able to undertake a decent regression analysis each sub-category should have at least 15 individuals in – for example: You survey 100 people, 40 of these are women, 18 of these are black – this is about as far as you can go in terms of further analysis as now if you want to look at black women in their 20s this figure may now drop to 8 making regression difficult.

    So this sample of 40 – what is it representative of? Firstly, they were all Masters students. Due the small numbers of Masters students at SOM these views (and demographic characteristics) are very representative of MSc students!! There is an obvious age bias towards mid to late 20s – which makes the findings more shocking as one often assumes that younger generations have a more liberal view in terms of equality. Also shocking is that they were MSc students, i.e. highly educated again we often assume the most progressive views come from the educated.

    In terms of being representative of a wider population, it is apparent that there is an over representation of ‘African’ (mainly Nigerian) respondents. Hence in comparison to the School of Management as a whole, British Asians are mostly under represented and comparing to the UK as whole there is an obvious under representation of White British. General question to all:

    To what extent do you think British Asian and White British attitudes to women will differ from these findings? (for further reading see ‘intersectionality’ – my wider survey shall look at this)

    I think I saw a comment along the lines of ‘these are students with no work experience’. To an extent your right but not completely (that’s my fault for not putting up all demographic info) – the vast majority had been employed full time prior to study, usually in lower management positions – they were mid to late 20s though so their work experience was limited. Approximately a quarter were part time students and held middle management positions

    I hope this addresses some of the methodological questions – if anyone has any further questions re. methods blog it or send me an email direct and we can meet up for a chat.

    Next blog out soon will address the questions, ‘why are we still researching gender inequality’, ‘why shouldn’t we just ignore it and hope it sorts itself out’, ‘why are we men bashing’, ‘what is the extent of the inequality’. Comments welcome.

    Rob Perrett

  18. Dr Robert Perrett

    So are women discriminated against (overtly or subjectively) in the workplace and within British society more widely and if so why is this? – It is important to understand that when looking at one situation or environment, i.e. the workplace, prejudice is fundamentally linked to wider societal norms and expectations. And so, although we are ultimately looking at discrimination in the workplace, inevitably many factors will impact upon this, for example; the culture that has developed within a country and the influence of religion; state legislation around discrimination and legal rights pertaining to maternity, part time work, and return to work schemes; state/societal support for childcare; careers advice in schools and the way children are taught; parenting; reinforcing sexual eroticism around women on a daily basis (i.e. page 3 etc in the work place) and teaching our children this is the norm; and the fact that two women a week are KILLED by current or former partners in England and Wales (at a cost of £1 million to the tax payer per homicide) and that this receives less media attention than the latest dog attack (see Home Office statistics).

    Anyway, we will come back to societal influences and the causes of discrimination in a later blog for now we will briefly look at one of the many indicators of inequality, the gender pay gap – it is important to note at this stage that this is just one of many indicators and it is often mis-reported or misunderstood by the media. Be advised that in the next blog I will only report the key basic gaps, the top level descriptive statistics; these can mask important differences and explanations. I need to present a table or two to look more specifically at gaps by sectors, job types etc – but I need to work out how to paste these into the blog first so watch this space. Anyway, see below where the legislation around equal pay came from and the basic statistics for the gender pay gap (which is one of the worst in Europe):

  19. Dr Robert Perrett

    Is there legislation?

    Establishing equal pay for work of equal value was enshrined within Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. It took a few years (as usual) but based upon this document the UK introduced legislation in 1970 called the Equal Pay Act. This was subsequently updated in 1983 by the Equal Pay (Amendment) Regulations.
    1. Article 11 (of the 1957 Treaty of Rome) prohibits any discrimination with regard to pay between men and women.

    2. The Equal Pay Act 1970 (and subsequently the 1983 Equal Pay [Amendment] Act) means that people should be paid the same regardless of their gender. You have a right not to be paid less than someone of the opposite sex doing:
    1. the same work or similar work (legally known as ‘like work’)
    2. different work that is of equal value to your employer (known as ‘work of equal value’)
    3. The most recent legislation covering inequality is the Equality Act 2010 – although there is little substantial difference between this and the Equal Pay Act.
    It’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you because of your sex.
    Sex discrimination law covers almost all workers (men and women) and all types of organisations in the UK. It covers:

    • Recruitment
    • Employment terms and conditions
    • Pay and benefits
    • Training
    • Promotion and transfer opportunities
    • Redundancy
    • Dismissal

  20. Dr Robert Perrett

    Overall gender pay gap

    The median (average) hourly pay for men in the UK is: £12.42
    The median (average) hourly pay for women in the UK is: £10.00

    Therefore, at the basic level, the overall gender pay gap in the UK is: 19.5% (19.8% in 2010)

    To give you a better idea of what this represents on an annual basis the FULL TIME median gross annual earnings are presented (2011, 4).

    Full time male median gross annual earnings £28,400 (up 1.2% from 2010)
    Full time female median gross annual earnings £22,900 (up 1.9% from 2010)

    Women are more likely than men to work part time and so focussing on FULL TIME equivalent jobs (and subsequently part time) is more useful as it eliminates criticisms that we are not comparing like with like (i.e. hours worked). I will provide this in tabular form in due course but the full time median pay difference between men and women (i.e. like for like jobs) is 9.1% (mean is 14.9%). What is also worthy of note is that the median hourly pay for female part time work is higher than male’s, indicating that a larger number of women were in better paid part time work (in the private sector). However, this was not the case in the public sector where PART TIME gender pay gap is 18.3% !!! – indicating a (large) majority public sector workforce being female but run (management) by a minority of extremely well paid MEN!!

  21. Dr Rob Perrett

    Response to Sarah Dixon – interesting comment re. women and leadership.

    The vast majority of evidence indicates that, on a whole, leadership style between men and women is very similar. Some evidence suggests that women pursue more transformational leadership styles and men transactional, but the overall correlation is slight. One thing that comes up frequently is that women are typically more democratic in their leadership style, involving others in decision making (participative leadership) which is arguably better suited to today’s contemporary, and often fragmented due to advanced technology and off-shoring, organisations. The key differences come in terms of ‘leadership effectiveness’ – i.e. how effective their leadership style was. When women lead in a sector which is traditional ‘female’, or the majority of people judging them are female, they are deemed as being highly effective. When men lead in a sector that is traditionally ‘male’, or the majority of people judging them are male, they are deemed to be being highly effective. The problem comes when women lead in a sector which is typically categorised as male – Even though evidence suggests that their ‘actual effectiveness’ is identical to men’s they are deemed as less effective by those judging them! To summarise, even though actual effectiveness is identical, perceived effectiveness is lower.

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  23. marie shelton

    My view is that we should move away from what men and women ‘think’ about leadership and towards what we ‘know’ about leadership in terms of getting results. Only when we focus on hard facts around the topic will we be able to have a balanced view and influence the ‘thinking’ around the topic.

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