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The Fuss Over Women Bosses

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There's been a lot of press recently over a Gallup poll that indicates Americans still prefer a male boss.

The survey of 2,059 adults found that 35 percent of respondents, both male and female, prefer working for a man, compared with 23 percent who favor a woman. (Some 41 percent have no preference). The Daily Beast honed in on another "disturbing" factoid from the survey: Even women would prefer to work for a male rather than another female, by a 13-point margin.

Gallup didn't explore the reasons why so many opt for male leaders, although the suggestion is that most people still associate men with management roles. The good news (for women bosses, at least) is that attitudes have changed drastically since Gallup first asked this question, back in 1953, when Eisenhower was president and I Love Lucy ruled the airwaves. Back then, 66 percent of Americans preferred a male boss while just 5 percent preferred working for a woman.

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Will attitudes change further in coming years? The Gallup poll's authors, Frank Newport and Joy Wilke, suggest they will, as more people experience having a female boss. "Those who currently work for a woman are as likely to prefer having a female boss as a male one," they say. "This is one of the few subgroups of the population that does not tilt in the 'male boss' direction."

So the trick, it would appear, is to get more women in the position of boss. Among working Americans, 54 percent say they currently work for a man while only 30 percent work for a woman. While women are starting businesses at a rate higher than men, women still lack leadership roles in Corporate America:  Less than 5 percent of CEOs at Fortune 1000 companies are females. And some high-profile startups -- Twitter is a good example -- lack women on their board.

The Center for Women in Business, an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, prepared a report earlier this year called Advancing Women to the Top, looking at companies that are actually good a promoting women to management positions. The research, conducted by McKinsey, outlined steps all companies can take to better incorporate and advance women.

One is to commit to gender diversity. Companies that have had "women initiatives" for decades have the most representation of females in leadership positions. (The report singled out Aetna, Steelcase and Wells Fargo, among others.)  "While we appreciate that it is not easy for companies without a rich history to make progress, success begets success over time," the report found.

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The research also found that companies that had women board members in 2007 had more women in top leadership roles by 2011. A business that's "anxious to jump-start gender diversity" should place a priority on finding qualified women for its board, according to the report.

Once women are in leadership roles, they become "terrific role models" for younger women, the report found. (The observation seems like common sense to us, but then again, we're big believers in role models.)

While most Americans aren't clamoring for a female boss, the CWB research suggests a reason why people should: Women bosses help a company boost its bottom line.

The report identified 78 companies that excelled in advancing women to leadership positions. Those 78 "significantly outperformed" the rest of the Fortune 1000, the research found. Women leaders can help companies gain new insights into customers and attract a competitive workforce, the report suggested.

At a time when job security matters to folks, having a woman boss could be a serious advantage. Perhaps future Gallup polls will show a change in attitude, a long ways from 1953.