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You Wouldn’t Believe How Many People (Still) Prefer Having a Male Boss Over Female
Adobe Stock
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
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“Americans Still Prefer a Male Boss,” declared a 2013 Gallup headline. The survey revealed that while the percentage of respondents who favored male over female bosses had become significantly lower since Gallup had initially posited the question in 1953, Americans still tended toward wanting a male boss over a female one, although many had no gender preference.

However, in 2017, Gallup released a new report, this one with the headline, “Americans No Longer Prefer Male Boss to Female Boss.” This research found that a majority of survey respondents had no gender preference, while roughly equal percentages had a preference for male over female bosses and vice versa.

A breakdown of the Gallup research.

In the 2013 poll, 40% of respondents had no preference with regard to the gender of their boss, a much higher percentage than that of respondents to the 1953 survey. Meanwhile, 35% preferred a male boss over a female one, down from 66% in 1953, and 23% preferred female bosses, up from 5% in the initial poll. This figure is roughly equal to that of opinions in more recent surveys prior to 2013 since the 1980s. The survey reflected the opinions of both working and non-working Americans, which Gallup reports were similar.

The survey also found that men and women both preferred male bosses, though a vast majority of men exhibited no gender preference. Meanwhile, women were more likely to express a preference, choosing male bosses over female ones by a 13-point margin. 

Respondents who were working for a female boss at the time of the survey preferred male and female bosses in roughly equal percentages, while those who worked for men preferred male bosses by an 18-point margin. Notably, a significantly higher number of Americans reported that they worked for a man rather than a woman (54% to 30%).

There were some variations by demographic. For example, Americans between the ages of 35 and 54 were least likely to prefer a male boss, although the opinions of those in the youngest age group of working Americans reflected the national averages, and political partisanship played a role, too — those who identified as independents and Republicans preferred male bosses, while people who identified as Democrats were roughly even in preferring bosses of gender over another. Education did not seem to play a role in the results.

Gallup hypothesized that as more women moved into managerial positions, the percentage of Americans preferring female bosses might grow, given that the numbers of working Americans who preferred one gender over another while working for a woman were roughly even. 

Changing tides.

This, of course, changed by the time of the 2017 Gallup poll. According to the more recent survey, most Americans — 55% — expressed no gender preference for their bosses, with men more likely than women to lack a preference (68% to 44%). This was the first time in the survey’s history that Gallup found that a majority of respondents did not prefer one gender over another. Moreover, those who did express a preference did so in roughly equal percentages — 23% to 21% for male and female bosses respectively. This represented a 43-point drop from the 1953 survey and a 12-point drop from the 2013 survey in terms of preferring male bosses. 

Working Americans tended to favor the gender of their current boss. The report noted that women under the age of 50 preferred female bosses, while those over 50 were divided. Meanwhile, 44% of women overall exhibited no preference. A vast majority of men of all ages expressed no preference. Men under the age of 50 preferred male or female bosses in roughly equal percentages, while men over 50 tended to prefer male to female bosses (22% to 10%). Those identifying as Democrats marginally preferred female bosses, while those identifying as Republican preferred male bosses by 13 percentage points. 

Gallup noted that the survey was conducted shortly after the dawn of the #MeToo movement, between November 2–8, about a month after the October 2017 publication of The New York Times article that exposed decades of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein was published. The article prompted more and more people across numerous industries to speak out against their perpetrators. The Gallup report hypothesized that this news may have influenced public opinion in terms of preferring male to female bosses.

What makes a person a boss?

Sometimes, people who aren’t necessarily deserving become managers, due to office politics, longevity of service, sheer luck or other factors. A person can also be a boss without being a true leader, too.

While a boss (not a leader) may put forth directives, make unilateral decisions, take credit for the work of the team and motivate with fear, a true leader inspires, supports and encourages their employees and pushes you to succeed. A person of any gender can be a leader, and the same goes for being “just” a boss.

How can a man be a good boss?

The qualities that make a man a good boss are the ones that make any person a good manager, regardless of their gender. For example, they should mentor their reports (both direct and indirect), communicate with and involve their team members in decisions, motivate employees, offer plenty of professional development opportunities, deliver feedback, make long- and short-term goals and expectations clear and promote teamwork and collaboration in their employees.

However, given that a majority of leadership positions are still filled by men (this is variable by industry, but as of May 2019, there are only 33 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies), male allies are imperative. Male bosses are in a position to advocate for their female employees and generally support and foster their professional growth. The #MeToo movement prompted some men to shy away from supporting and even engaging with women in the workplace, but this support is critical for gender equality in the workplace and enabling women to break the glass ceiling in different fields.

Some ways male bosses and men in general can serve as allies to women include:

• Standing up for female employees and calling out inappropriate, exclusionary or discriminatory behavior

• Promoting inclusive practices — promotions, recruitment and hiring decisions

• Asking questions

• Acknowledging the problem

• Having open discussions

• Asking other men to join the cause

• Offering professional development opportunities to women

• Mentoring female employees

• Listening to and acknowledging the voices and opinions of women

• Acknowledging and educating others about unconscious bias

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