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The Double Bind For Women In Leadership

LOS ANGELES, USA - JANUARY 20: People participate in the Women's March rally on January 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Morgan Lieberman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES, USA - JANUARY 20: People participate in the Women's March rally on January 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Morgan Lieberman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Voting ballots for the upcoming 2018 midterm elections will feature a record number of female candidates. Despite the influx of women interested in political office, men still dominate most leadership roles in the United States.

Fewer than 1 in 5 members of Congress are women. At Fortune 500 companies, fewer than 1 in 20 CEOs are women. And if you look at all the presidents of the United States through Donald Trump, what are the odds of having 45 presidents who are all men?

If men and women had an equal shot at the White House, the odds of this happening just by chance are about 1 in 36 trillion.

What explains the dearth of women in top leadership positions? Is it bias, a lack of role models, the old boy's club? Sure. But it goes even deeper. Research suggests American women are trapped in a paradox that is deeply embedded in our culture.

"It is really the very, very fine line of being a shrew on one hand and a puppet on the other that any woman in public life has to walk," says former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, a Democrat from Illinois.

So what's a woman to do? Be nice and kind and friendly, as our gender stereotypes about women require? Or be tough and decisive, as our stereotypes about leadership demand? To be one is to be seen as nice, but weak. To be the other is to be seen as competent, but unlikable.

The Hidden Brain Podcast is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced Parth Shah, Rhaina Cohen, Jennifer Schmidt, Matthew Schwartz, and Renee Klahr. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter@hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Parth Shah is a producer and reporter in the Programming department at NPR. He came to NPR in 2016 as a Kroc Fellow.
Jennifer Schmidt is a senior producer for Hidden Brain. She is responsible for crafting the complex stories that are told on the show. She researches, writes, gathers field tape, and develops story structures. Some highlights of her work on Hidden Brain include episodes about the causes of the #MeToo movement, how diversity drives creativity, and the complex psychology of addiction.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.
Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.