Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Sexist attitudes mean female leaders have to outperform men, a study finds

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (L) talks with Cecilia Morel, wife of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera during a banquet being held in honor of President Pinera at the San Martin palace in Buenos Aires, April 8, 2010. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian (ARGENTINA - Tags: POLITICS) - GM1E649064001

Female presidents are often less popular and judged more harshly than male counterparts. Image: REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

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“On average, female leaders come into office with less support than male leaders and their support erodes more quickly,” says lead author Ryan E. Carlin, an associate professor of political science at Georgia State University. “Furthermore, the public strongly withdraws support from female leaders in the wake of policy failures in physical security and public corruption.

“We measured the public popularity and perceptions of both male and female presidents in all of these countries,” he says.

“Female presidents proved to be less popular and were judged more harshly than male counterparts, in part, because of longstanding gender stereotypes that were prevalent across cultures.”

Effective political leadership is generally associated with aggressiveness, ambition, forcefulness, self-sufficiency, self-confidence—traits typically associated with men, Carlin says.

“Most people associate women with communal traits such as affection, compassion, kindness, helpfulness, and gentleness,” he says.

“These gender stereotypes are remarkably widespread and durable and set up a perception for many that women presidents lack the qualities of leadership required.”

Gender stereotypes also feed additional skepticism towards female presidents, creating a double standard whereby women face closer scrutiny and stricter demands than their male colleagues.

“Female leaders must outperform men to be considered equally competent,” Carlin says. “Women’s success in managerial roles is more often attributed to luck or effort than to ability. Yet their failures tend to be ascribed to lack of ability.

“For men, the logic is reversed. When men succeed, it is attributed to their ability, but when they fail it is chalked up to bad luck or lack of effort.”

The study examined data from 18 Latin American and East Asian democracies. Carlin and research collaborators looked at quarterly and yearly data from 1992 to 2016 from public and private polling firms for each country in the study: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, South Korea, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

The researchers selected the countries in part because of their system of presidentialism, in which the executive branch is separate from the legislature, and the public election of presidents. Many countries that have had female prime ministers or heads of state, such as the United Kingdom and Scandinavian nations, were not part of the study.

The study appears in the British Journal of Political Science. Additional researchers from the University of California, Riverside and the University of Mississippi contributed to the study.

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