She Should Be the Boss

April 04, 2016

Gender diversity in management and leadership is a good thing. Translated: We need more women bosses in this world! Though it seems obvious to me that leaders should reflect the communities they serve and lead, it often isn’t a reality.

According to AAUW’s newest research report, Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership, women are still less likely than men are to be seen as leaders. In 2015, fewer than 5 percent of S&P 500 companies had a female CEO. Women make up nearly 48 percent of the private sector workforce but occupy only about 30 percent of senior leadership positions. These numbers confirm the need for people who fill top jobs to better reflect the entire workforce.

Leadership equity is a positive change for everyone. Evidence shows that having more women in management and leadership positions leads to greater engagement in the workforce. It also correlates with healthy profits. Having equal leadership opportunities is a good thing for women, but it also benefits individual businesses, economies, and the world.

Employee Engagement Matters

NEW! AAUW Research:
Why Do Men Still Outnumber Women in Leadership?


The market research firm Gallup has studied management, employee engagement, and other fun (for me) leadership topics for over 60 years. Their 2012 research report, State of the American Manager, shows that, on average, people who work for female rather than male managers are more engaged with their work by 6 percent. The report also indicates that female managers tend to be more engaged (41 percent) than male managers (35 percent). Greater engagement leads to good things, like fewer people quitting, more people developing their skills and reaching higher levels of potential, more collaboration on progress and goals, and happier employees overall.

The Bottom Line

The connections between gender diversity and employee engagement are clear, but the ties to its impact on profits are more nuanced. However, emerging evidence shows that having more women in top management positions is linked to increased profits. Likewise, a recent international survey of 22,000 firms by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that increased female representation at senior leadership levels corresponded with significant increases in profits, sometimes as high as 15 percent. The study also reported numbers similar to those in AAUW’s Barriers and Bias research, finding that in the area of leadership diversity 60 percent of companies surveyed had no female board members and more than 50 percent had no female executives.

With more women than ever pursuing higher education and entering the workforce, their presence is strong in entry-level positions and lower management levels. These are women who are ready and qualified to be promoted. Companies that are focused on finding ways to encourage and move women forward into leadership positions are smart to open themselves up to new thinking and growth.

There is plenty of evidence about the positive impacts of equality in leadership. So how do we move everyone closer to achieving that goal? Barriers and Bias makes the point that it’s a community effort. It’s up to us as individuals to educate ourselves on these issues and seek out evidence-based solutions and training. It’s employers’ responsibility to do the hard work of making structural and cultural changes that support and promote diversity in leadership at every level. Finally, it’s the job of policy makers to create laws and set expectations that promote leadership equity. We need more women bosses in this world, so let’s make that happen.

This post was written by AAUW Vice President of Member Leadership Deepti Gudipati.


The expert panel discussed bias, mentors, and women in leadership. Left to right: Charles Bolden, NASA administrator; Salli Frattini, awards show executive producer; Cokie Roberts, moderator and journalist; Anna Han, behavioral scientist; Diane Linen Powell, an adviser to startups and nonprofit organizations; and Rosie Rios, treasurer of the United States; Not pictured: Marion Blakey, president and chief executive officer of Rolls-Royce North America. Photo credit: Maria Bryk/Newseum

Watch the Barriers and Bias Discussion Panel

This panel of experts, moderated by journalist and author Cokie Roberts, discusses AAUW’s new report’s findings and what they mean for women in leadership.

gender bias

How to Fight Your Own Implicit Bias

What associations do you learn to make from the media, your friends, and society? Learn what they are and how to stop them.

Presidents Carter, Clinton, Obama, and George W. Bush, laughing.

Why Leadership Doesn’t Mean Masculinity

The reasons why we equate men and masculinity with leadership has little do with facts and a lot to do with stereotypes and assumptions.

By:   |   April 04, 2016


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