The Work It, Mom blog brought my attention to a New York Post article citing a new survey suggesting that 3/4 of workers prefer a male to a female boss. The results are consistent with a survey conducted by Elle Magazine/MSNBC earlier this year. Another study this year found that most people have no preference for a boss of either sex, but among those that did choose, both the women and the men in the survey preferred to work for a man.
The Post article mentions some perceptions about women bosses that feed this sentiment:
- Ambitious men are go-getters, but ambitious women are bitches
- The "mommy track" - a woman trying to juggle her job with her family (might not) concentrate on her team
- People (men especially) might see women as mother figures and not as managers
- Women tend to be uncomfortable asking for raises or fighting when the negotiations get tough, for themselves or their employees (that was last week's study)
- Women communicate differently, undermining their statements with qualifiers, which may cause competence to be questioned
- Women take everything personally
In twenty years in the workforce, I've worked for both men and women. Some of these stereotypes did apply to my female bosses, and some didn't. And some of these stereotypes, in general, are contradictory - I would think a real live super-ambitious "bitch" would come across as a tough negotiator and very direct communicator.
The only boss I've ever had at two different jobs was a woman, and I lobbied for my employer to hire her the second time around. I learned more from her than anyone else I've worked for - and not only in the technical sense. However, especially the second time we worked together, I'd say our relationship was rather complicated. As it happens, my boss during my unhappiest work years was also a woman, but that was far from the only factor in my unhappiness there. I think one of my issues is that I probably bring higher expectations to working for a woman than I do to having a man as my boss. I’ve always felt that women have a strong obligation to help each other along, but the women I’ve worked for (so far) haven’t really seemed to share that. I've gotten a sense that they haven’t wanted to give breaks they didn’t get themselves, for various reasons.
I've also been a boss for almost half my working life, and I try to keep that sense of responsibility to other women in mind while in that role. But I'm pretty sure some of these perceptions would apply to me. I've made a lot of progress at taking things less personally in the workplace, and I'm really not especially ambitious, but to some extent I'm guilty - if that's the right word, and it may not be - of the other items on this list. I think there's a lot of overlap in the skills required as a manager and as a parent, but there are times I've been too much of an indulgent mom in the workplace (more than in my own family, probably!), and the negotiating thing is a challenge. (And check out the qualifiers used in this paragraph!) But seeing my management responsibilities through a parental filter has also given me a good barometer for the kind of behaviors and treatment I expect to find in the workplace - my coworkers shouldn't be acting like kids, and I don't tend to have much patience with it when they do.