This past week, Pew Research published its list of the world’s women leaders.
Where are we going? To expectation bias.
The World’s Women Leaders
Among the UN’s 193 member nations, just 13 have women leaders. Furthermore, for nine of them, it was a first. Never before had they had a woman at the top.
These are the 13 nations with women heads of government and the nine for whom it was a new phenomenon:
Knowing that Indira Ghandi ascended to a decade of power in 1966, we can say that India stands out. She though was an anomaly. As of now, only 59 UN member states have ever had a women leader. Below, you can see some 1990-2023 history shown by the green shading of the countries that ever had a woman head of government as of the date at the top of each map:
Women in New Yorker Cartoons
During 2015, econlife published a New Yorker cartoon study that concluded women are under- and stereotypically-represented. The bosses in New Yorker cartoons were mostly male as were judges, lawyers and scientists. But if you look for an assistant, a food server or a cave person, there was more of a chance that the individual would be female. Only as parents, spouses, and students did the number of depictions of women equal or outnumber the men.
We can hypothesize that more recent New Yorker cartoons abandoned these stereotypes but I could not locate an up-to-date study. However, just nine years ago, these were the actual results.
The x-axis shows the “number of depictions” of females in blue and males in red.
To complete the picture, we note that there are just 41 female CEOs–8.2%–in the S&P 500.
Our Bottom Line: Expectation Bias
Whether looking at the world’s women leaders or old New Yorker cartoons, or S&P 500 CEOs, we see few women in leadership roles. A behavioral economist would suggest that seeing so few female leaders could shape our behavior by creating an expectation bias.
What we see matters.
In the following experiment, what we expected had an impact when a Harvard professor falsely labeled average rodents as either smart or dumb. Because his students seemed to have an affinity for the rats they assumed were smart, they handled them more frequently and more gently. Since touch affects a rat’s behavior, the “smart” ones not only outperformed the “dumb” ones but also were tamer, cleaner, more pleasant, and more likable. The professor concluded that his students had demonstrated an expectation bias that affected their subsequent behavior.
Similarly, when we are bombarded by patriarchal countries, corporations, and cartoons, it sadly makes sense that some of us expect more of the same.
My sources and more: Seeing the Pew Research on national leaders, I recalled the 2014 New Yorker cartoon study and the Catalyst CEO list. Then, returning to this discussion and this study on expectation bias, all of the pieces fit together. Please note that parts of today’s econlife were in a past post.