More women are participating in the workforce than ever before, and research on high-level leadership suggests that there has been progress among executive and board-level positions as well. According to a recent survey published by Pew Research Center, “Women now account for record shares of Fortune 500 chief executives and board members in the United States – 10.6% and 30.4%, respectively.”
The survey found that most Americans, or 55%, believe there are too few women in top executive positions. Among these respondents, 79% feel it would be ideal for both genders to be equally represented in these roles. More representation is progress, and progress is a good thing, but the data also reveals a disparity in perceptions of the barriers women face in climbing the corporate ladder.
The reasons cited by most respondents for the underrepresentation of women in executive positions include the need for women to prove themselves more (58%), gender discrimination (50%), family responsibilities (48%), and sexual harassment (40%), among others.
However, these perceptions also vary based on gender and political affiliation. Women and Democrats are more likely to recognize these obstacles as “major reasons” for the gender disparity in leadership roles. Juliana Horowitz, Pew’s associate director of research, told Axios that these results mirror broader views on how people perceive gender equality in the U.S.
Comparing these findings to a 2018 study, there’s minimal change in perceptions over the past five years. However, the fact remains that the representation of women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies has surged from 4.8% in 2018 to 10.6% in 2023. Additionally, women’s representation on Fortune 500 boards has grown from 22.5% in 2018 to 30.4% in 2022.
Pew Research further elaborates that while women now account for record shares in Fortune 500 leadership, their representation is still below their population share. The study also highlights that Americans are divided on whether there will ever be gender parity in top executive roles. Notably, 65% of women believe there’s a shortage of female leaders, compared to 45% of men.
The recent data shows that while strides have been made in increasing female representation in top business roles, perceptions about gender barriers remain divided. Recognizing and addressing these disparities is essential to creating a more open workforce.