Why are so few women in positions of power in business and politics? The list of reasons – or excuses, or accusations – is long: Women don’t lean in. Family responsibilities weigh them down. Old boy networks keep them out.

Wednesday morning, the Pew Research Center released a new survey that finds something else entirely: Women don’t reach the upper echelons in leadership because 1. They’re held to higher standards and 2. Americans aren’t ready.

Those were the top two reasons for the dearth of women leaders chosen by 1,835 randomly selected adults who responded recently to Pew Research’s online survey.

“It wasn’t that women aren’t tough enough or that they don’t have the necessary skills,” said Kim Parker, director of social trends research at the Pew Research Center. “And work-life balance and women’s obligations to family, which are traditionally thought of as the biggest barriers, didn’t resonate as much as the fact that people think women are held to higher standards and that the country isn’t ready for more female leaders.”

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In truth, what the survey really uncovers is the fact that, when it comes to women and power, most Americans don’t really know what to think.

On the bright side, 80 percent of those surveyed thought that men and women make equally good business leaders. About three-fourths of all Republicans, Democrats and Independents agreed men and women were equally good political leaders. And 71 percent said the country needs to make more changes to increase gender equality in the workplace.

And fully 73 percent expect to see a female president in their lifetimes – good news for Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters no doubt. (Which may explain why far more Democrats than Republicans said seeing a female commander in chief was personally important.)

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Yet despite the gender equity equanimity in politics, the survey found that majorities of both men and women were skeptical that that change in corporate America is coming anytime soon: 52 percent of the men surveyed and 55 percent of women said men will continue to hold top positions of power in business in the future.

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“That was one of the findings that really stood out,” Parker said. “When it comes to a female president, people can see change. But in business, I guess the word is out that women are underrepresented at the highest echelons of business.”

Although women are nowhere near parity in politics – women make up 20 percent of the US Senate, 19 percent of the House, 24 percent of state legislators and 10 percent of governors – they’ve fared better than women in business.

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Roughly 5 percent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are led by women. And, as Catalyst, the research organization that aims to promote women in business, reported this week, women make up 19 percent of corporate boards in the United States, far behind Norway’s 35 percent. And those US numbers haven’t budged much in recent years, despite the fact that women have been graduating from college in greater numbers than men since the mid-1980s and that women hold slightly more than half the managerial and professional occupations, up from one-third in 1968.

“Women have risen up on all these different levels to the point where they should be prepared and primed for leadership,” Parker said, “but somehow, it’s making leap from managerial to C-suite that seems to be taking a lot longer.”
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