"Acting Like A Man": What It Means To Be A Good Boss

Illustration for article titled Acting Like A Man: What It Means To Be A Good Boss

Can you talk about how men and women manage in the workplace without resorting to gendered stereotypes? Not if you're Forbes Woman. Still, it's worth asking why so many women say they prefer to work for a man.

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Let's put aside, for a moment, the crudely generalizing subhead ("Male bosses are competitive and strategic thinkers. Women are team-builders and energizing. Is it reasonable to think one is better?") and take a look at the key question here. Forbes Woman asked on their Facebook page whether readers preferred to work for a man or a woman. "The majority replied, 'A man any day of the week,' to use the words of Stephanie Rovengo." There's more scientific data that shows this opinion to be held fairly broadly:

In the most recent Gallup data, from 2006, 34% of men preferred a male boss while 10% preferred a female boss, while 40% of women preferred a male boss and 26% preferred a female boss. (The remaining respondents of both genders had no preference.)

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Why do people find it so hard to work for a woman? Oh wait, maybe women bosses are just crappy because women aren't meant to be in charge of anyone older than eleven. Luckily, the article has little time for that interpretation. Instead, it suggests that women bosses are judged more harshly than their male counterparts:

One explanation for the across-the-board preference of male leaders may be deeply instilled gender stereotypes held by both men and women. "The cultural model of a leader is masculine," says Eagly. "Leaders are thought to be people who are dominant and competitive and take charge and are confident. Those kinds of qualities are ascribed to men far more than women. Women are ascribed to be nice. We are, above all, nice."

This isn't new, of course. But it's disturbing to see crystallized the extent to which women have also internalized the resistance to "dominant and competitive" female leadership. What would it take to unlearn it?

Do Employees Prefer Male Or Female Bosses? [Forbes]

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DISCUSSION

We live in a society where priorities and ideals have almost always been set by men. This makes it hard for people to judge and compare the performance of women, because it will always be examined as "other".

My boss is a woman. I loathe her. She is a bad boss in the model of a stereotypical "bad female boss", which makes me loathe her more. She is gossipy. She is clique-y. She displays "mean girl" tendencies. She is moody. She is vengeful. She is particularly dismissive of younger women. She frequently leaves work to take care of her children... who are in their 20s and no longer live at home. She is imprecise and indecisive, and while she's excellent at stirring up shit, she's terrible at any form of confrontation.

Because we have these long-held and pervasive stereotypes about women in leadership (and women in general), it is easy for people to say my boss is bad because she's a woman. Since her negative traits are considered "feminine", then it must follow that her femaleness is the cause of both those traits and the way they affect her job performance.

Here's the problem: we don't view men this way. If a man is a bad boss in the exact same way, his negative traits are not seen as feminine. I have worked for men who played favorites, who avoided making decisions, who bagged their responsibilities for personal reasons, and who were emotional and took things personally. And no one ever said, "Ugh, just like a man." They just talked about how those guys were assholes and looked for a new job. Because women in positions of power are still a novelty, their failures are so easily chalked up to their femaleness, instead of the real culprit — they suck at their jobs.

I would like to dispel one stereotype though. My boss, for all her supposedly feminine flaws, is the worst communicator I've ever encountered in a work environment. I regularly receive emails like this: "pls chk Susan on clt audit - r u finished w RCP?" And I don't even work with a woman named Susan, nor do I have a client named RCP, as they don't exist.