Leaning Out: Teen Girls and Leadership Biases
Are today's teen girls poised to close the gender gap tomorrow?
Making Caring Common’s research report, Leaning Out: Teen Girls and Leadership Biases, suggests that teen girls face a powerful barrier to leadership: gender bias. Based primarily on a survey of nearly 20,000 students, our report suggests that many teen boys and teen girls—and some of their parents—have biases against teen girls as leaders. The report also offers recommendations for parents and educators for preventing and reducing gender biases.
Many boys and girls expressed bias against girls as leaders in powerful professions.
Students were least likely to support granting more power to white girls as council leaders.
White girls appear to be biased against other white girls as leaders.
Some mothers appear to be biased against girls as leaders.
Biases against girls have many causes.
Awareness of bias matters.
Check your own biases.
Cultivate family practices that prevent and reduce bias.
Teach teens to spot and effectively confront stereotypes and discrimination.
Don’t just let “boys be boys.”
Challenge teens’ biased assumptions and beliefs.
Use programs and strategies that build girls’ leadership skills.
Use this report to spur discussion.
Key Data Points
Almost a quarter of teen girls—23%—preferred male over female political leaders while only 8% of girls preferred female political leaders, with 69% reporting no difference in preference.
Forty-percent of teen boys preferred male over female political leaders while only 4% preferred female political leaders with 56% expressing no preference. A higher percentage of boys preferred male business leaders (36%) to female leaders (6%). There was no significant difference between girls’ preference for male versus female business leaders.
Both boys and girls preferred females by large margins in traditionally female professions, e.g., as child care directors and arts program directors.
In response to the scenario intended to detect implicit biases, students were least likely to support giving more power to the student council when it was led by white girls and most likely to support giving more power when it was led by white boys. Black and Latino boys and girls appear to face leadership biases as well based on our scenario. (Please see the report for more information on racial biases.)
In 59% of the schools we surveyed, students on average expressed more support for a council headed by white boys than for one headed by white girls.
White girls tended not to support giving power to white girls. White girls presented with boy-led councils expressed higher average support for the council than white girls presented with girl-led councils. Further, when we looked at what types of councils students tended to support in each school, we found that in 61% of our schools, white girls’ average level of support was higher for councils led by white males than those led by white females.
On average, mothers presented with councils led by boys expressed stronger support for the council than mothers presented with councils led by girls.
We conducted several surveys, focus groups, and informal interviews to better understand students’ and adults’ biases related to gender and leadership. Our largest survey—19,816 students from a diverse range of 59 middle and high schools— included an implicit bias scenario designed to detect unconscious biases. Read more about our findings and recommendations in the Executive Summary (PDF) or by downloading the full report (PDF).