America Still Isn’t Totally Cool With Lady-Bosses

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Photo: NBC NewsWire/Getty Images

For those concerned about women gaining equal recognition, pay, and status in the workplace, the number of women in supervisory roles is obviously a really important concern. That’s part of the reason women in big-time leadership positions like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg receive so much attention. A new poll from Gallup, though, shows that Americans might not quite be ready for a world of female bosses — both men and women say they prefer male bosses to female ones, although an encouraging plurality of all Americans says it doesn’t matter.

Here’s the trend line over the years, which shows clear improvement over the decades:

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Photo: Courtesy of Gallup

And here’s the breakdown by gender.

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Photo: Courtesy of Gallup

Finally, a sign that simply having a female boss makes you more likely to be cool with that arrangement (remember that the overall percentage of Americans preferring women bosses in 2014 is 20 percent):

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Photo: Courtesy of Gallup

So what’s the takeaway message here? Other than the rather obvious observation that more work needs to be done to get that “I don’t care” number higher, I’d argue that the very high proportion of men who say that the gender of their boss doesn’t matter to them (58 percent) is a bit suspect, especially given that the survey was conducted over the phone.

As one study abstract put it, “it is well established that self-administered questionnaires tend to yield fewer reports in the socially desirable direction than do interviewer-administered questionnaires.” That is, survey respondents actually interacting with the survey-giver, whether over the phone or in person, are more likely to fall victim to social desirability bias, or the very human tendency to answer questions in a self-serving manner. This explanation just feels more realistic than a genuine 24-point gap between men and women on this item, and could also explain the somewhat curious finding that a higher percentage of women claim to prefer male bosses (I’m not saying this isn’t a genuine result, but if some percentage of men who say they don’t care actually prefer a male boss, it would mean the real gap on the preferring-male-bosses item is at least smaller).

But whatever the extent of this skewing — if there is skewing — it’s hard to look at these overall numbers and say that the idea of female bosses has fully caught on in the U.S., even if we have made significant progress.