thinking woman
(Photo by MarkFGD / iStock)

So how do you really feel about having a female boss?

According to a recent survey of 2,000 Americans by Pershing LLC, a BNY Mellon company, the answer is complicated. Actually, let’s call it what it is: screwy.

Despite the gung-ho title of the study, “Amercian Crave a New Kind of Leader—And Women Are Ready to Deliver,” the findings are not sanguine. The craving and the readiness might be real, but that doesn’t mean that people really want women to be their leaders.

Here are some findings according to the Pershing study:

- A majority of respondents prefer leaders with collaborative styles, such as being collegial, cooperative, and good at listening.

- Seven out of 10 people identify collaborative leadership styles with women.

- Over three quarters of respondents (77 percent) associate traditional leadership styles—barking orders, valuing hierarchy, and using reward/punishment to control underlings—with men.

- The majority of respondents say they are comfortable working with women in several traditionally male occupations, including physician, lawyer, Fortune 500 senior executive, engineer, and president of the United States,

If you only read that much of the survey, you’re probably saying: “Hooray! Women have finally arrived!”

But professing to being “comfortable” with women leaders doesn’t mean that you’d like one in your own backyard. “Research shows that a gap still exists between the acceptance of management style and the actual preferences in leadership choices,” says Kim Dellarocca, Pershing’s global head of practice management, in the report. In other words, we prefer female leadership styles—but we’d still prefer a male leader.

When given a choice between a man and a woman, many would still prefer a man in certain jobs (see chart):

- Engineer: 72 percent of respondents prefer men.

- U.S. President: 59 percent prefer men.

- Fortune 500 executive: 56 percent prefer men.

- Personal financial advisor: 52 percent prefer men.

- Lawyer: 53 percent prefer men.

Not to be totally discouraging, the survey finds that a majority of respondents did express a preference for women in certain professions. Aside from the usual suspects like teacher and nurse (87 and 93 percent prefer women, respectively), there were also some surprises, such as physician, therapist, direct manager, and U.S. senator. (My theory is that many of those roles require good bedside manners. As for senator, I think we’re just tired of grandstanding male politicians.)

But what about members of the younger generation? Are they cool with having women in charge? Here’s where it gets really discouraging:

While conventional wisdom says that young people are more open to new ideas, the results reveal that the older the individual, the greater the comfort with seeing women in leadership positions.

Basically, that means that Gen Y is just as prejudiced about gender. In fact, the old fogies are sometimes more progressive because they’ve actually dealt with women leaders and didn’t find them so awful. “This pattern could be a result of real-life experiences in working with women in various occupations that have helped break down the traditional stereotypes,” says Dellarocca.

It seems that once you’ve had a woman in charge, you’ll probably overcome your gender hangups. In the meantime, though, we still prefer male leaders—so long as they’re in touch with their feminine side.

Too bad we’re not ready for the real thing.

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