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The Double Bind For Women In Leadership

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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 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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