A new Pew Research Center survey has delivered a big vote of confidence for female corporate leaders, with women scoring substantially higher than men on five out of seven categories of leadership.

On each of the categories, 49% to 66% of respondents said there was no difference in leadership qualities between men and women. However, among the other half of the respondents, the view was that women could be better trusted to achieve positive results in areas related to social and cultural outcomes like diversity and safety. Tellingly, though, men scored far higher in the categories related to risk and deal-making.

The survey shows a stark difference in how many people view the capabilities and qualities of male and female leaders. The traditional idea persists of women as nurturing and inclusive and men as driven and deal-focused. It's both a blessing and a curse for women leaders, especially those who want to be recognised as accomplished businesswomen in their own right, capable of negotiating the toughest of deals with the best of them. 

The results of the survey reinforce a set of gender stereotypes that hold women back in certain areas of business, such as accessing finance at the startup level, but also serve other women well, particularly in corporate environments that have moved to embrace triple bottom line ideas around social diversity and responsible corporate behaviour.

The categories of “negotiating profitable deals” and “being willing to take risks” are precisely the ones most commonly cited by the likes of venture capitalists as reasons why female-led startups struggle to get funding. 

A Swedish study examining the attitudes funding decision-makers like venture capitalists have about male and female entrepreneurs noted men were almost unanimously viewed as risk-takers and more likely to be interested in rapidly scaling companies than women. 

Some of the comments from participants in the study included:

“She is very cautious, as women often are, and she is careful in what she does, and she does not dare to invest.”

“It’s a fact that women are more cautious in their investments.”

“She is a typical woman: extremely risk-averse.”

However, the stereotypical attitudes of funding decision-makers did not correlate to the business outcomes measured in the study — the gender stereotypes were essentially wrong:

“Our research shows that VCs clearly evaluate entrepreneurs differently when it comes to gender. Because of this, female entrepreneurs may face difficulties in gaining credibility because different standards are used to evaluate their performance. At the same time, these beliefs have no basis in fact.”

It's great women are increasingly being seen as competent managers, as borne out by the results of the Pew Research. However, the managerial qualities highlighted in the survey also continue to show the areas in which women experience an unfair bias. There's still a lot left to disprove for female entrepreneurs and women in business who want their deal-making acumen acknowledged rather than their abilities to foster and nurture caring corporate environments.