Updated: Feb 11, 2020
How do we prevent gender bias? By not thinking this is a strange photo, for starters. (iStock)
By Amy Joyce Writer/editor
July 28, 2015 at 1:00 a.m. EDT
Think you’re raising your daughter to be a strong leader? Look more closely: You, and the people around her, may unwittingly be doing just the opposite. Teen boys, teen girls, and, yes, even parents have biases against girls and women as leaders, new research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and its Making Caring Common project found. Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist who runs the Making Caring Common project, said he was “surprised by the extent of it … how gendered both the boys’ and the girls’ responses were.” Weissbourd decided to look at bias as part of the larger goal of helping children learn to be kind. “We were concerned that biases get in the way of people caring about and respecting other people, so our initial study was just looking at biases,” he said. “And one of the striking findings that emerged was gender bias.”
The research found that 23 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys preferred male political leaders instead of female, while only 8 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys preferred female political leaders. Similarly, 36 percent of boys preferred male business leaders to female. (There was no significant difference between girls’ preference for male versus female business leaders.)
On the school-age level, students were least likely to support granting more power to student councils if white girls were in charge and most likely when white boys were.
That’s right. Even mothers and girls were more likely to favor giving power to student councils led by boys rather than by girls. Weissbourd’s report cited a 2013 Gallup poll found that 35 percent of all respondents would prefer to have a male boss while only 23 percent of respondents would prefer to have a female boss. The preference for male bosses was even stronger among female respondents.