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Americans prefer male bosses, even though women are better for business

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Diminished drive?
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

A new Gallup poll found that American men and women prefer a male boss to a female one.

Though the popularity of women bosses has improved since the 1950s, it hasn’t changed much in this century. Instead, the number of people who say they prefer men has decreased, and “no preference” has increased over time. In 1953, 66% of respondents said they’d rather work for a man, compared to 5% who wanted to report to a woman. In 2000, 48% said they prefer a man and 22% said they’d prefer a woman. In August of this year, only 33% of respondents said they’d prefer a man, while 20% preferred a woman (with a + 4 percentage point margin of error).

This year, women had stronger preferences for the gender of their bosses than men did; 58% of men said they had no preference, and only 14% said they would prefer a woman.

Whatever the roots of the bias toward male bosses, it doesn’t square with what’s best for business. A 2004 Catalyst study of Fortune 500 companies found that businesses with the highest representation of women on their top management teams experienced a 35% higher return on equity and a 34% higher total return to shareholders than the companies with the lowest representation of women in leadership.

Women are also more likely to help a company develop its talent. A 2012 Catalyst report of global MBA graduates found that 65% of women who were mentored in some way returned the favor for new talent, compared to 56% of men. And 73% of those women helped bring up other women, while only 30% of men who were mentored did the same for promising women.

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