Would you rather work for a male or female boss?
Despite all the progress women have made in climbing the workforce ranks, the answer to that question has consistently been the same: Most people prefer male bosses.
Survey after survey has confirmed the sentiment. The research also show a surprising consistency. Women, more than men, say they would rather have a male boss than one of their own gender.
In a Gallup poll from November, 35 percent of respondents preferred a male boss, 23 percent chose a female boss and 41 percent said they had no preference. By comparison, when Gallup first posed the question in 1952, only 5 percent said they preferred a female boss.
The stereotypes run deep. An assertive, dominant male boss is admired as a formidable leader, while a female boss with the same attributes is considered power-hungry and unlikeable.
Consider the 2003 "Heidi Howard" study. In the study, Columbia University researchers told business students a story about a successful business person. Half of the class was told that person was a man named Howard, and the other half heard it was a woman named Heidi. The students described Howard as "competent" and "worthy of respect," Jezebel notes. And Heidi? You guessed it -- they said she was selfish and "not the type of person you would want to work for."
Even in this day and age, people still think of leaders as men, Alice Eagly, a social psychology professor at Northwestern University, told Forbes. "Leaders are thought to be people who are dominant and competitive and take charge and are confident," she said. "Those kinds of qualities are ascribed to men far more than women. Women are ascribed to be nice. We are, above all, nice."
This sets up a nearly impossible dilemma for female bosses. Should you be the "nice" woman that people expect, or do you dare display some of the assertive qualities that good leaders have? There is no easy answer.
There are so few women at the top that many of the people who say in surveys that they prefer male bosses have never had a female one to start with. Only 4.8 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs are women, according to Catalyst, an advocacy group for women in business.
The pressure on those leaders is intense, judging by the growing criticism for Marissa Mayer of Yahoo (YHOO), or the attacks that came when Facebook (FB) chief operating officer Cheryl Sandberg released her "Lean In" book about women and careers. When Jill Abramson was fired as the executive editor of The New York Times, speculation mounted was that she was too "pushy," The New Yorker reports.
Women who do climb to the top are pilloried from all sides, and that doesn't look to be changing anytime soon. "Everyone applauds when they shatter that glass ceiling," writes Elizabeth Spiers on The Verge. "Then they pick up the shards, and start cutting away."