New York: Women are no longer regarded less competent than men on average but are still seen as less ambitious and decisive -- a disadvantage in the leadership role, finds a study.
Women's perceived competence has increased relative to men's, consistent with their growing participation in the labour force and education, says a new Northwestern University analysis that spanned through seven decades (1946-2018). Women now earn more bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees than men, unlike decades ago.
However, women's gains in perceived competence have not propelled them to the top of hierarchies.
"The perceptions of women as communal and men as agentic have not eroded since the 1940s, contrary to conventional wisdom about convergence in gender roles," said Alice Eagly, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University.
Rather, communal stereotypes have changed but increasingly towards portraying women as more compassionate, affectionate and sensitive than men.
"Men are still viewed as more ambitious, aggressive and decisive than women, and that agency stereotype has not substantially changed since the 1940s," Eagly added in the paper published in the journal American Psychologist that analysed 16 opinion polls conducted in the US with more than 30,000 adult respondents.
Most adults now report that women and men are equal in general competence. But among those who see a difference, most see women as more competent than men.
For instance, in the most recent poll, conducted in April 2018, most respondents (86 per cent) said men and women are equally intelligent.
However, 9 per cent said that women are more intelligent, compared to a smaller percentage (5 per cent) who said that men are more intelligent.
Interpretation of these findings, said Eagly, is that women's increasing labour force participation and education likely underlie the increase in their perceived competence, but that occupational segregation underlies the other findings.
"Specifically, women are concentrated in occupations that reward social skills or offer contribution to society," she said.
"The current stereotypes should favour women's employment, because competence is, of course, a job requirement for virtually all positions," Eagly said.
"Also, jobs increasingly reward social skills, making women's greater communion an additional advantage."
However, the findings are not all positive for women.
"Most leadership roles require more agency than communion and the lesser ambition, aggressiveness and decisiveness ascribed to women than men are a disadvantage in relation to leadership,' Eagly noted.
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