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Are There Gender Differences In Climbing Up The Ladder? Why Experience Matters More For Women Than Men
Women are unequally represented in the highest positions in society. Beyond discrimination and bias, women are missing from the top because they are often less likely to pursue high-ranking opportunities. We propose that experience is a critical moderator of gender differences in pursuing leadership opportunities, with low-experience women being the least likely to seek higher-level positions. Archival analyses of 96 years of U.S. Senator and Governor elections examined whether male and female politicians differ in their propensity to run for higher political offices. As predicted, women with little political experience were the least likely to run for higher office, but experience closed and even reversed this gender gap. A preregistered experiment replicated the archival finding that experience boosts women’s propensity to seek higher-ranked positions, an effect driven by increased self-perceptions of success. The findings suggest experience is one lever for closing the gender gap in seeking to climb professional hierarchies.