23% of teen girls and 40% of teen boys say they prefer male over female political leaders — just one of the shocking findings from research conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education as part of their Making Caring Common Project.
Even though teen girls have many strong successful female role models in industries from politics to entertainment, gender bias coming from parents, teen boys and even themselves may be holding girls back from reaching their full potential as leaders in society.
Making Caring Common is focused on growing empathy among children towards one another and developing their capacity to care for those who are different than them. The group conducted a survey of 17,000 students from 50 schools in the United States and 2,800 students from seven international schools. 1,200 parents were also given the survey, and questions asked attempted to identify the students’ biases that they are both aware and unaware of.
The survey presented students and parents questions about student councils of varying races and genders at random and asked whether or not they would support a principal’s decision to give the council power.
“What we found is that not only teen boys, but many teen girls prefer male leaders in powerful professions, such as politics. Further, when it comes to leadership in general, many white teen girls appear to have biases against other white teen girls and some mothers appear to have biases against teen girls as well. The good news is that our data suggests that awareness of gender discrimination at school may be tied to less bias against girls.
According to the survey, in 59% of the schools that participated students on average supported the student council headed by white boys than one headed by white girls.
When presented with surveys asking about student councils led by boys, mothers showed stronger support for those councils than those led by girls.
The research also found that the reasons behind gender bias varied. Some girls’ feeling of bias against one another came from competitive feelings or low self-esteem; girls who have low confidence sometimes project those feelings onto other girls. It was also recorded that some view girls as too emotional or dramatic.
Making Caring Common has recommendations for parents and teachers on how to help prevent and eliminate gender bias, starting with checking their own biases. Parents’ and teachers’ biases can have a strong effect on the kids they raise, so recognizing ones own biases is an important first step in perpetuating them.
“We recognize, though, that fully preventing gender and other biases and clearing pathways to leadership for girls and women will require changes in many sectors of our society.In one way or another, we all have a role to play in assuring that girls and women maintain and accelerate the gains that women have made in the last 30 years.”