The Psychology of Trust: Perceptions of Women in Leadership

Trust is fundamental to our society. When it is lacking or lost, the fabric of our society unravels.

It is the same in the workplace, in business, and in politics.

A recent annual survey by the Reykjavik Index for Leadership revealed that trust in women's leadership has declined despite the rise of women in key executive positions.

This got people talking, a lot of people. The original (The trust crisis facing women leaders) article published itself was shared over 17,000 times on Facebook and Twitter combined. And the reason it had such widespread appeal is that the topic of women leaders is one that is still taboo. Women continue to be held back by stereotypes, both in the workplace and in the home, and we haven’t been doing enough to overcome these archaic norms. 

According to The Guardian, the most powerful professions still remain almost exclusively masculine. When men are successful in the workplace, they are referred to as being 'good blokes' or being 'a good old fella'. However, if a woman is more successful she is questioned, her values questioned and she is talked about behind her back.

Despite many women leading organizations, communities, and nations successfully, the lack of trust in women in power persists. Women are held up as examples for others to follow often because their motives are seen as purer than those of the men that have been in comparable positions. Lack of trust is also not a matter of poorly performing women or poorly performing men but a matter of basic psychology that is skewed towards perpetuating those stereotypes.

The issue of women leaders is brought to the forefront by the fact that people are deciding whether or not they would want a woman leader in their own lives. Whether it is a personal life example or a business example the research conducted shows that women are not just making a positive impact but have been held up as examples of trustworthy leaders during tumultuous times. To understand this phenomenon we need to understand a little bit about human psychology as well as how we make judgments about each other.

The answer to trusting any leaders is not sweeping female leadership away, but rather deciding the degree of trust on a case-by-case basis. This can be done in many ways including by examining behavior and gender stereotypes.

“This is not about fixing women and it’s not about fixing men, but about changing deep-seated norms within our society. And right now, those aren’t moving.” Michelle Harrison (Kantar Public) 

We need to stop holding women back and start supporting them with more confidence. We need to believe that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to, even or especially if it involves entering fields dominated by men. We need to take action now. Let’s be the generation that moves past gender bias and move forward to achieve greatness—together.

Author: Patrycja Maksymowicz, 2nd December 2022

Read:  The trust crisis facing women leaders By Josie Cox 30th November 2022