Rejection of women in management (and foreigners?) stronger than surveys suggest

Two new studies paint an alarming picture: one shows a strong increase in xenophobia, the other shows that true attitudes towards women in management positions are much more negative than usual surveys indicate.

A new study by the University of Düsseldorf quantifies for the first time the factor ‘social desirability’ for surveys on the topic of women in management. The researchers found that the true attitude towards this question was less positive than usual surveys suggest. This insight not only puts many diversity study results – including employee surveys – in a new light. It may also cast a shadow over current data on growing xenophobia in, e.g., Germany.

What people really think about women in management

Prejudices against female leaders are more widespread than previously thought, as participants in surveys on sensitive issues sometimes respond dishonestly. The extent of the known phenomenon of “social desirability” is quantified in a new study by means of an indirect questioning technique to record the actual attitudes of respondents. This enabled them to show that significantly more people have reservations about female executives than direct questions suggest, 37 percent instead of 23 percent!

Double encryption exposes women and men

The advanced survey format CrossWise is based on random encryption and guarantees respondents the confidentiality of their answers to questions on sensitive topics. The comparison with conventionally collected results shows that women are more inclined than men to respond in ways that are supposedly more readily accepted by others. At the same time, reservations about their gender comrades in management are significantly lower than among men. The indirect survey method led to the following results in comparison to the traditional survey method

  • 28% of women showed reservations (compared to 10%)
  • 45% of men showed reservations (compared to 36%)

Growing, multi-layered xenophobia

The latest survey wave of a long-term study on xenophobia in Germany shows that almost one in three Germans holds xenophobic positions and that the devaluation of individual groups is increasing. The researchers distinguish between the agreement to individual xenophobic statements (e.g. perceived alienation by Muslims, assumed exploitation of the welfare state or anti-Jewish views) and the so-called manifest xenophobia in the form of a consistent agreement to all statements that are regarded as xenophobic. This increased from 20.4 percent in 2016 to around 24.1 percent in 2018. Six percent of German citizens currently have a clear right-wing extremist view of the world. Although this figure has risen slightly, it is lower than the figure at the beginning of the longitudinal study in 2002 when it was 9.7 percent.

Rejection in the labour market, rejection of religious minorities and advocacy of right-wing dictatorships

The Leipzig Authoritarianism Study 2018 (formerly the Centre Study) provides insights into society’s basic attitudes to a number of individual aspects:

  • 36 percent of Germans agree with the statement that foreigners only come here to exploit the welfare state
  • Over a quarter sent foreigners “back home” if jobs were scarce in Germany
  • Approximately 36 percent consider Germany to be alienated to a dangerous degree by foreigners
  • Every tenth finds that “Jews have something special about them and don’t really suit us”, in addition 20 percent latently agree with this statement

Dr. Decker, author of the study, thus still sees “dangerous magnitudes of anti-Semitic thought patterns”. At the same time, the devaluation of other groups perceived as “foreign” or “deviant” has increased: Aggression against Sinti and Roma, asylum seekers and Muslims continues to increase. Slightly more than half of the respondents (one third in 2010) feel like “foreigners in their own country” because of the number of Muslims. Putting this into perspective: In 2009 there were an estimated 4.2 million Muslims in Germany, between 4.4 and 4.7 million in 2015 and about 5 million today.

Authoritarian dynamics as a key factor

The Leipzig study recorded authoritarian personality traits this year and comes to the conclusion that authoritarianism is a major cause of right-wing extremist attitudes. People with authoritarian character tend to rigid ideologies that allow them to submit to an authority, to share in its power, and to demand the devaluation of others in the name of that order. Around 40 percent of Germans show characteristics of an authoritarian type, only 30 percent are explicitly democratically oriented. According to the study, 65 percent of Germans have a profound level of authoritarian aggression.
Even with xenophobia a dark figure?

Whether the results of the Leipzig study contain similar response tendencies (e.g. social desirability) as the aforementioned gender study is difficult to assess. The survey method, the paper-to-pencil method, appears to be less susceptible to this than a survey. It can also be presumed that the media presence of latent and manifest xenophobic utterances by politicians and other public figures has caused a ‘salonability’ of these attitudes. This could have led to a more honest response, which could partly explain the increase in recent years.

This contribution was deliberately published on November 9th and does not show East-West differences in order not to encourage ‘relocation of the problem’.