Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias?
We exploit random assignment of gender quotas across Indian village councils to investigate
whether having a female chief councillor affects public opinion towards female leaders.
Villagers who have never been required to have a female leader prefer male leaders and perceive
hypothetical female leaders as less effective than their male counterparts, when stated
performance is identical. Exposure to a female leader does not alter villagers' taste preference
for male leaders. However, it weakens stereotypes about gender roles in the public
and domestic spheres and eliminates the negative bias in how female leaders effectiveness
is perceived among male villagers. Female villagers exhibit less prior bias, but are also less
likely to know about or participate in local politics; as a result, their attitudes are largely
unaffected. Consistent with our experimental findings, villagers rate their women leaders as
less effective when exposed to them for the first, but not second, time. These changes in
attitude are electorally meaningful: after 10 years of the quota policy, women are more likely
to stand for and win free seats in villages that have been continuously required to have a
female chief councillor.