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Americans still prefer male bosses to female ones

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There may be more female CEOs in the Fortune 500 than ever before. Sheryl Sandberg may have sparked a movement for women to take charge of their careers. And social media may have lashed out when Microsoft’s CEO told women to trust the system rather than ask for raises.

Yet despite all these signs that attitudes toward women in power are improving, some research shows it’s more of the same. On Tuesday afternoon, Gallup released a report showing that Americans — both men and women — still say they would prefer having a male boss over a female one.

The report, part of Gallup’s weeklong Women and the Workplace series, used data from Gallup’s work and education poll, conducted in August. It found that 33 percent of the people polled would prefer a male boss. Twenty percent would prefer a female supervisor, down slightly from last year when that number was 23 percent.

Interestingly, women showed a stronger preference for male managers. When the data were broken down by respondents’ gender, 39 percent of women said they would rather their boss be male, while only 26 percent of the men in the poll said the same. Then again, women also were more interested in having a female boss (25 percent of women, versus 14 percent of men, said they’d want a female supervisor).

Part of what these numbers show is that many people don’t have a gender preference at all for their manager. Overall, 46 percent of respondents said they had no preference — an increase from last year’s 41 percent. (Though even this year’s number is down from 2002, when it was 49 percent.) Of note: Men were particularly likely to be ambivalent. The majority of men, 58 percent, said they didn’t care whether their boss was male or female. That’s up from 51 percent last year.

Women, meanwhile, had more opinions about the gender of their boss. Just 34 percent said they were indifferent. That could be out of fear of the so-called “queen bee syndrome,” in which women who’ve climbed the ladder are not viewed as strong supporters of the women behind them. Studies also have shown that female bosses who engage in workplace bullying act out mostly toward other women; that women working under other women report more stress than those working under men; and that executive women who advocate for diversity get lower performance reviews. Of course, plenty of other studies have found evidence of positive associations, such as that more women than men mentor and develop the talent below them.

One other trend the report highlights is not just the shift in attitudes, but also the shift in roles. This year, 33 percent of those polled said they currently had a female boss. Last year it was 30 percent. Perhaps as that number continues to grow, so will the ratio of people who don’t care whether their boss is male or female — and just want someone who is competent and fair.

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