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ANU study reveals female leaders aren’t trusted

By Jack Campbell | |4 minute read
ANU study reveals female leaders aren’t trusted

According to research by the Australia National University (ANU), female leaders aren’t trusted by their colleagues.

Lead research author, Dr Eun Young Song, commented on the negative impact this can have: “It’s great to help women move up the ladder, but this study shows even when they do succeed, women aren’t likely to be trusted by the people around them.”

“We found despite the fact these women are often in supervisory roles, and are well connected, their high status doesn’t benefit them,” she said.


Dr Song notes that this issue isn’t seen as often when the woman is in a junior position. For men however, it is the opposite. The research found that people tend to trust men in senior positions more than men in junior positions.

Dr Song said: “This could actually discourage women from taking up high-status positions in the first place.”

Dr Song commented on how this affects relationships in networking: “Trust among members of a professional network makes the network effective. It makes sharing information easier, which in turn helps with achieving common goals.”

“The importance of networks in business is much talked about, but we need to consider how widely held beliefs about women’s competence and social status might impact those networks,” explained Dr Song.

The research was conducted over two studies of employees working on a major underground project in London in 2014 and 2015. Dr Song notes that this gender divide can hinder productivity and says data and education are what will turn the tide on distrust.

“Efforts to achieve gender equality should be paired with a society-wide push to break down these gender-status beliefs,” said Dr Song.

“Without this, promoting more women to more senior positions won’t solve the problem – and may even exacerbate it. We need to move beyond simply telling individual women to improve their communication skills.”

As reported by HR Leader back in July, Kim Wiegand, the founder of Julip, helps women in professional services find pathways to leadership roles.

Initiatives like Ms Wiegand’s are helping empower women to take on leadership positions and break down misconceptions, like those highlighted in the ANU study.

Ms Wiegand shared statistics from Diversity of the judiciary: 2021, which revealed that women are leaving the legal industry around the same time that they’re ready for senior leadership positions.

Julip is a service that women can utilise to help them advance their leadership capability. Visit the Julip website here.


Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.