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Americans want women leaders, but businesses lag

Friday, May 13, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Americans have strong convictions about the importance of having women in leadership roles, but businesses are falling short in advancing women, according to a new study by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Americans — men and women — agree that both genders are equally qualified to lead businesses (96 percent), and say it is “highly important” to them that women and men have the same opportunities for career advancement (82 percent), according to “Women in Leadership: Why It Matters,” based on an April 2016 online poll of more than 1,000 adults. But only one-third (34 percent) say their workplace puts a high priority in having women in positions of influence and one in four (24 percent) report there are no women in leadership positions in their companies.

Americans are acutely aware of the forces that hold women back, the report notes. Nearly every man and woman polled (92 percent) say traditions of, and expectations for, male leadership in workplace cultures contributes at least somewhat to women’s lack of representation in top positions — more than two-thirds (69 percent) say they contribute “highly.”

Barriers to advancement

Men and women blame workplace preconceptions — such as women being seen as prioritizing family over career (89 percent) and the perception that women are less effective leaders than men (78 percent) — for holding women back. Americans also see other career barriers for women: lack of support from mentors in securing top positions (83 percent) and for career advancement more generally (80 percent), and lack of personal connections that boost careers, something men have (75 percent).

The large majority of Americans (85 percent, including 79 percent of men and 90 percent of women) agree that it is easier for men to reach top leadership positions than equally qualified women. The result: Lower career expectations for women. While more than half of men (52 percent) see themselves as having opportunities to advance to leadership positions, just 38 percent of women feel the same way.

“Having female leaders in positions of influence to serve as role models is not only critical to the career advancement of women, but generates broader societal impacts on pay equity, changing workplace policies in ways that benefit both men and women, and attracting a more diverse workforce,” the study concluded.

Sizable majorities of men and women believe having more women in leadership positions would have significant positive impacts in the workplace, including helping to reduce the pay gap between men and women doing the same work (76 percent of all respondents), changing workplace policies in ways that benefit both men and women (74 percent) and attracting a more diverse workforce (71 percent).

What’s more, the presence of women in leadership positions is an important consideration to Americans in choosing where to work. Two-thirds (67 percent) say it’s at least somewhat important to them; 76 percent of women think so.

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