It’s confirmed. You don’t look like a good leader. Yes, it seems you, me and the entire female gender has a leadership problem. People don’t think we look like leaders. Both men and women seem to have the same troubling opinion. When conjuring up a mental picture of a leader, people picture men, they don’t picture women. Just ugh!
A study to be published in The Academy of Management Journal — the place brainiac academics publish their newest research findings — makes that point exceedingly clear.
In an experiment, men and women were asked to draw a picture of a leader. The picture didn’t even have to be of a good leader, just your everyday, person-you-might-know leader. Yep, you guessed it. Almost everyone drew a man. The view in their minds’ eye was of a male face, not a female’s face, and that’s what they drew nearly 100% of the time.
These researchers found what we’ve known all along… getting noticed as a good leader in the workplace is more difficult for women than for men. The research leads us to the finding that both men and women overwhelmingly think man when they think leader. And that’s a leadership problem. Double ugh!
How has this happened? It’s complex as you would have guessed. A well-known psychological short cut called Confirmation Bias is right in the middle of it.
Humans depend upon the mental shortcuts evolution has delivered to us. These shortcuts are ways to instantly recognize things we’ve seen before and things we haven’t. Examples: which of these green leaves is not like the other… which red berry is poisonous, and which is tasty…which person is part of our tribe and who is the outsider…which person is the leader and who is not… all decisions made in a blink of an eye using a mental short cut we don’t even know is there. And that short cut is called a “confirmation bias.”
And that’s the way we upend the Confirmation Bias that men look like leaders and women do not.
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References for this article come from a New York times article, “Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman?“ by Heather Murphy.