Half The Men In The U.S. Are Uncomfortable With Female Political Leaders

Only 49% of American men say they would feel very comfortable with a woman as head of the government, according to a study released Tuesday morning of attitudes toward women and men in 11 countries. 

Women were a bit more likely to see their own leadership potential, but they’re still pretty sexist, too. Just 59% of American women surveyed said they’d be comfortable with a woman in charge, according to the Reykjavik Index, a survey of attitudes toward gender in the Group of Seven industrialized countries, as well as Brazil, China, India and Russia, conducted by consulting firm Kantar and Women Political Leaders, a nonprofit global coalition of female politicians based in Iceland. 

That only half of men are OK with a woman in charge is perhaps not surprising in the U.S., where a misogynist sits in the White House, a woman has never been president and there are still very few female governors. However, it is notable heading into an election where four women are vying for the Democratic nomination for president.

The results shouldn’t be interpreted to mean a woman doesn’t have a shot at the top spot, said Michelle Harrison, CEO of Kantar Public, a public policy consulting and research agency. A female politician’s road is just going to be a lot rougher.

That’s been clear already in the current nomination race, where the women running are facing an array of gendered critiques ― being called angry or elitist or schoolmarmish, for starters.

“Women in all walks of life have a harder job on the journey to leadership than men,” said Harrison, who worked on the study. “I don’t think it’s telling us anything specific about a particular woman. Leaders always break through.”

For the report, the researchers surveyed 22,000 adults ages 18 to 64 across the 11 countries ― including 2,000 Americans. The survey asked about women’s and men’s suitability for leadership roles across a number of areas, including government; business sectors like media, fashion, technology; and child care. 

The researchers found pervasive gender discrimination in every country surveyed. Nowhere were women and men viewed as equally suitable for leadership roles. Canada and the U.K. are the only countries in which a majority ― a slim one ― of men said they’d be very comfortable with a woman head of state. 

The researchers scored countries on an index, with 100 being perfect equality where women and men are viewed as equally capable. The lower the index score the more inequality there is.

Judged against other countries, the U.S. stands near the top, coming in third place with an index score of 75. Germany and France tied for first place, ranking at 77. The U.K.’s score dropped four points to 73 from 2018, knocking the country from first to fourth place.

Americans, men and women, were slightly more comfortable with a woman leader in the business sector. Sixty-one percent said they were comfortable with a female CEO.

There were some interesting differences across industries. Americans were more comfortable with female leaders in the media industry ― the index score there reached 82. Other industries scoring 82 (the highest ranking of all sectors) include the natural sciences and banking, which is somewhat surprising considering the prevalence of male CEOs in finance.

This is the second year Kantar and WPL have done this study, but the first time they’ve included countries outside the G-7, which includes the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada.

The report finds discrimination against men, too. In every country, men were seen as less suitable leaders when it came to child care.

It is worth pausing to consider that people trust men to wage war and run the economy but not look after a toddler. 

“It’s laugh out loud,” said Harrison. “You can have your hand on the nuclear button, but we honestly don’t think you should be anywhere near the under-3s.”

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