People Assume Men Are Better Leaders Than Women, New Study Says, Which Isn't Good News For Anyone

There's a definite gender gap when it comes to men and women in leadership positions in the workplace, and it turns out that the problem might be partly to do with sexist assumptions. In a new study, researchers found that people assume men have good leadership qualities, but with women, people tend to be more skeptical. Which of course then fuels people's ideas about who would and would not be a better candidate for particular management job.

In the new study, researchers from the German Police Academy surveyed over 1,000 participants, both men and women. Participants were given a list of 17 different emotions, including things like joy, surprise, envy, and fear, and asked how characteristic they thought the emotions were of successful managers, men in general, women in general, male managers, female managers, successful male managers, or successful female managers. Each participant only assigned emotions to one of the above groups, meaning people weren't judging women directly in comparison to men during the activity, but researchers still found that we tend to have very sexist notions of who is suited for leadership.

The findings show that people are more likely to assign emotional qualities associated with leadership to men. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be characterized as having emotions such as fear, guilt, shame and sadness.

"Men in general are described as more similar to successful managers in emotion expression than are women in general," the authors write in the study. "Only with the label manager or successful manager do women-successful manager similarities on emotion expression increase."

They add, "These emotion stereotypes might hinder women’s leadership success."

Which makes sense. If a person's assumptions about women's emotions make them seem unsuited for leadership, then even if they think they're being fair in their hiring process, they are unconsciously going to see female candidates as less qualified than these women most likely are.

Which might explain why the gender gap in leadership remains, even in the 21st century. Today, women make up only 14.6 percent of business executives and less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. And while things get better in lower levels of management, the gap does not disappear — in mid-level management, for instance, only about a quarter of managers are women.

While people like to blame these kinds of numbers on women taking the "mommy track" there are numerous other possible contributing factors that seem much more likely culprits — especially since most women who leave work to take care of a child do so because they don't have other options, not because they don't care about their career.

So are widespread, subconscious, sexist assumptions about what a manager should be like what's really holding women back from leadership? That remains to be seen, but the fact that people generally don't associate women with leadership qualities is certainly not helping any woman's career.