The potential of women for leadership roles is being overlooked, while men benefit from the perception that they will grow into the role, new research from the University of Kent shows.
Researchers at the university’s School of Psychology carried out two experimental studies that suggest women have to demonstrate high performance in order to be hired to senior roles.
By contrast, the study found that having potential was valued more highly than performance in men.
Nearly 300 participants took part in two studies to create the report entitled Overlooked Leadership Potential: The Preference for Leadership Potential in Job Candidates who are Men vs Women.
In an organisation hiring simulation, participants were asked to view and rank the CVs of female and male candidates for a leadership role in a hypothetical organisation. The candidates were either described as having high potential or high past performance.
The study demonstrated that when faced with a choice, people consistently ranked male candidates with leadership potential as their first choice. Furthermore, while leadership potential was preferred in male candidates, participants preferred past performance over potential in female candidates.
The university says the findings suggest whilst women’s past performance has to be at least as good as men’s, women might be held to higher standards in selection processes because their leadership potential might be less likely to be recognised than men’s.
Professor Georgina Randsley de Moura, one of the university's research team, said: "There is much evidence that women are under-represented in leadership roles and this has social, cultural and organisational impact. Our research revealed an overlooked potential effect that exclusively benefits men and hinders women who pursue leadership positions."