Globally, women are underrepresented in top management, especially true in Africa. Researchers propose that this may result from discrimination from below: gender discrimination by subordinates makes female leaders appear less qualified relative to an otherwise identical male leader. Using a novel “lab in the field” experiment in Ethiopia, researchers test whether leader gender affects the way subjects respond to leadership. They find evidence for discrimination: subjects are less likely to follow the advice of female leaders, and perform worse as a result. However, when subjects are informed that their leader is highly trained and competent, the gender gap is reversed and subjects are more likely to follow women than men. Findings suggest that subjects are using gender as a proxy for a leader’s ability. They also suggest that information on ability provided by researchers is interpreted differently for each gender. Researchers identify two patterns consistent with this idea: 1) they find no discrimination in a resume evaluation experiment for a senior management position, and 2) using a large sample of university administrative employees, they show that there is no gender wage gap among the highly educated. Results suggest that discrimination against women is due to gender being a proxy for ability rather than a distaste for female leadership, and that gender gaps are likely to lessen at the “top” of the labor market.
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