When it comes to explaining why there are so few female CEOs, a lot of theories foist the blame on women: Women are not confident or aggressive enough. They’re held back by family responsibilities. There just aren’t enough qualified or interested females out there.
But an intriguing new survey from the Rockefeller Foundation released Tuesday found a different explanation: Male attitudes.
Sixty-five percent of those surveyed said the attitudes of men in top leadership positions are a barrier to female leadership. Women are even more certain about this: A striking 90 percent said attitudes of men in a company play a role in holding women back, while only 49 percent of men said the same.
Nearly all of those surveyed said men and women were equally qualified to lead businesses.
“It’s sad,” said Laura Gordon, a managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation who worked on the survey.
Gordon said the findings aren’t intended to blame men, per se. But the fact is men make up the vast majority of the leadership in Corporate America. The responsibility for hiring more women lies with them. “They’ll have to provide the opportunities for women to rise up through the pipeline,” Gordon said.
There are just 32 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 ― 6 percent. Gordon runs an initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation that aims to boost that number to 100 by the year 2025 ― a modest goal that would still be nowhere near parity.
One in four Americans believe humans will figure out time travel before women reach equality in the corner office, according to the Rockefeller survey.
A recent article in The New York Times featured women who almost made it to the top talking about working in a largely male world and the resistance they faced. Their stories made clear that lack of ambition and parenting responsibilities weren’t the problems.
“I always had to do better than anybody else to be considered equal,” Jan Fields, who was president of McDonald’s USA until 2012, told the Times’ Susan Chira. “I ran great restaurants, had great profits and had the most successful people working for me.”
The Rockefeller Foundation worked with Global Strategy Group to conduct a national poll of 1,010 adults ages 18 and older at the end of May.
The survey found that 33 percent of Americans believe women aren’t interested in leadership roles. Forty-two percent said women lack the confidence to go for top positions, and 46 percent said there aren’t enough qualified women out there.
The lack of female leaders is far from a new problem, and companies have launched a variety of programs over the years aiming to help women fix it. But often those solutions are engineered to fix the women, offering them such things as mentors, leadership training and more flexibility to parent.
Those programs are likely important, but if it’s male leaders’ attitudes that need to change, clearly something else needs to happen.