Higher expectations are stopping women getting top jobs, not family commitments and motherhood

Lynsey Barber
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Marissa Mayer is one of a handful of high-profile CEOs (Getty)

The lack of female leaders and top executives in business isn't down to the reason you might think.

Research has shown that more women are needed at the top of business, not just on principle, but to make businesses better, and it's motherhood which usually gets the blame as the main reason preventing women from making it to the top.

But, new research suggests that is not the cause.

Two in five people believe the reason women are held back in the boardroom is because they are held to higher standards than their male counterparts. A similar number of people also believe this holds women back from top political jobs, according to Pew’s Women in Leadership survey.

The surprise findings, based on a survey of nearly 2,000 US adults, show people think companies are also not ready for women leaders, in business or politics, with a similar number of people citing this reason ahead of family commitments.

That's despite the majority of people (80 per cent of respondents) thinking men and women are equally good leaders.

In comparison half as many, just one in five, said family responsibilities were a reason.

Pew's director of social trends research Kim Parker told the Wall Street Journal the perception of women being held to higher standards could be a tougher one to overcome than that of work/life balance.

In the US, the share of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies topped five per cent for the first time last year. There are now 26 women leading major firms, compared to zero 20 years ago.

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