Women are now seen as just as competent as men, but less ambitious - and it's a good and bad thing
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- More people think women are intelligent and compassionate than they did 70 years ago, according to new research by the American Psychological Association.
- From 1946 to 2018, the percentage of Americans who thought men and women were equally intelligent increased by 51 percentage points.
- While women are now seen as equally as or more competent than men, men are still seen as more ambitious.
- Competent and compassionate stereotypes can benefit women in the workplace because jobs favor those qualities - but being seen as less ambitious than men puts women at a disadvantage for leadership roles.
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Americans are no longer looking at women the way they used to.
According to a just-published study in the prestigious journal, American Psychologist, there's been a sea change in how everyday Americans perceive the abilities of men and women, with a huge surge in equality.
The research team, lead by Alice Eagly at Northwestern University, analyzed 16 public opinion polls of more than 30,000 US adults from 1946 to 2018. They focused on whether poll respondents thought the following three traits were more true or equally true of both genders: communion - qualities like compassion and sensitivity; agency - related to ambition and agression; and competence - such as intelligence or creativity.
Turns out, more people think women are smarter and more compassionate than they did 70 years ago.
From 1946 to 2018, the percentage of survey respondents who thought men and women were equally intelligent increased from 35% to 86%. Even those who found there to be a difference in intelligence among genders have shifter their views. In 1946, more respondents thought men were more competent than women. In 2018, more respondents thought women were more competent than men.
In the U.S., People have also come to view women as more emphatic and sensitive than men over time, but most still view men as the more ambitious and aggressive sex. But note: The polls didn't sort respondents by gender, so that variable has been left out, leaving a gap in the findings.
These stereotype changes benefit and hinder women in the workplace
Eagly, the lead author, noted in a press release that the shift in competence and compassion can benefit women in the workplace because jobs require proficiency and favor social skills. However, she added, the lack of change in agency puts women at a disadvantage when it comes to leadership positions, which tend to select for this perceived quality.
That might be why women are 15% less likely than men to get promoted, reported BI's Shana Lebowitz, citing a report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. At this rate, say those researchers, it'll take more than a century to achieve gender parity in the C-suite.
According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an international authority in psychological profiling, talent management, leadership development, and people analytics, the solution is to focus more on actual talent and less on ambition when it comes to leadership roles.
Most of the soft skills needed to lead effectively - like emotional intelligence and humility - are more traditionally feminine, he wrote in a contributing post for Business Insider, and should be prioritized higher as leadership criteria. "If instead we look for the qualities that make people better leaders," he said, like integrity, emotional intelligence, and communication skills, "we will end up with both more women leaders and better leaders."