Should She Lead? Why Colleagues of Women, and Women Themselves, Often Think the Answer Is No


Thursday, September 7, 2017, 11:40am to 1:00pm


WAPPP Cason Seminar Room, Taubman 102

Alison Wood Brooks, Assistant Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; Hellman Faculty Fellow 

Despite efforts aimed at increasing gender equality in positions of power, women are underrepresented as leaders in organizations. Recent data suggests that less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and less than 11% of US firms that have ever received venture capital funding have been founded or led by women. In this seminar, Alison discusses two reasons women are scarce at the top of organizations. First, women may be underrepresented as leaders because they select out of advancement opportunities themselves. Across nine studies, she finds that women have more life goals—and a greater diversity of life goals—compared to men. As a result, women have more conflict among their goals and fewer resources to devote to pursuing any one of their goals. In consequence, women view promotions at work as equally attainable but much less desirable than men because they anticipate more negative outcomes. Therefore, women are more likely to turn down promotions. Second, women may be underrepresented as leaders because they are selected out of advancement opportunities by others. Correlational data from entrepreneurial pitch competitions and Kickstarter funding campaigns show that, compared to attractive men, women and unattractive men are less likely to receive funding for their ideas. This find is bolstered by evidence from controlled experiments that shows that female entrepreneurs (and unattractive male entrepreneurs) were less likely to be backed by investors even when the content and script of their entrepreneurial pitch was held constant. Furthermore, Alison analyzes the implications, boundary conditions, and possible interventions to close the gender gap in leadership.