The Conversation: Male Vs. Female Bosses
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Meghan Casserly, Forbes.com
This week on the Huffington Post, Ella L.J. Edmondson Bell, an associate professor at the Tuck School of Business examined one of the final frontiers of gender (in) equality in the workplace: the perception of women as bitches--or at least bad bosses.
Edmondson Bell surveyed her Dartmouth M.B.A. students to see whether they would prefer a male or female manager and was alarmed to see an overwhelming 90% of the women preferred a male. Being ForbesWomen, so were we. But a quick Google search had us reeling: The preference by women for male over female bosses is common knowledge in the study of workplace dynamics. (This sad truth on the heels of a major breakthrough for women as they surpass men in the workforce for the first time in history.)
The findings of a 2008 study from The University of Toronto revealed that women working under a sole female supervisor reported more distress and physical stress symptoms than women working under a lone male supervisor. The same stress levels were reported for a male/female supervising team, hinting that the very presence of a woman in a position of power is a stress trigger for female employees.
Edmondson Bell referenced another study. "Last year in a survey of 2,000 British women in full or part-time employment, 63% said they'd prefer a male over a female boss. According to the research, reported in London's Daily Mail and other media outlets, most felt men were stronger decision makers and better at 'steering the ship.'"
An article on SingleMindedWomen.com summed up the general sentiment succinctly: "Female bosses fall into one of two categories," according to an article on "B*tches or bimbos." The feature examines the stereotypes of women bosses as "dragon ladies" as perpetuated by movies like The Devil Wears Prada.
Confident that the ForbesWoman community--empowered women that they are--would tell us otherwise, or at the very least make sense of this preference, we took the question to Facebook and LinkedIn. Surely they prefer a female supervisor. Working on the all-female ForbesWoman team, we prepared ourselves to be proven right. But boy, were we wrong.
"A man any day of the week," says Stephanie Rovengo on Facebook, "They do not have those female cat fight instincts."
Zaida Sarely Mauricio agrees, adding: "Because [we] women are very competitive with each other… emotions and feelings get in the way."
"I'd prefer a man," says Tamara Bowman, also on Facebook. "I've had one good female manager but most of my spectacularly bad managers have been female."
Diana Dietzschold Bourgeois continues: "Women have been evil bosses to me in the past."
In fact, when the responses on Facebook are tallied, of the 25 women who spoke up, 19 were adamant that men make the better bosses--and that they would choose a male boss over a female boss if given the option., "A man hands down!" attests Annette A. Wilson in the Facebook conversation.
"Women can be conniving and backstabbing while giving you the nice-nasty smile." Lynn Maria Thompson says, "Absolutely a man, and I speak from personal experience. Women I've worked for, with only one exception, tended to feel threatened by me, whereas men were better mentors."
On LinkedIn, Wayne Tarkin offers a possible explanation for the idea that women don't live up to expectations in mentoring employees: "There's a split between successful women and those who don't feel themselves successful," he says. "This fosters resentment and the impression that women who have made it are not helping others [to] get there."
Frequent commenter Bridget 'Snarky' Thornton did a great job of summing up just how uncomfortable we feel about all of this "women bosses are bad" business.
"I had this conversation with a friend last week," she says. "We were angry with ourselves for preferring a male boss but we both agreed that the level of competitiveness and lack of support among women in the workplace. We MUST address this issue and realize what women can accomplish collectively if we worked together in the same way men do."
Who are we to argue? As women who consider ourselves champions of women in business, shouldn't we be the best bosses of other women? Shouldn't we know best about developing other women to be the best, most proactive and collaborative employees?
Or, as Ana Budeanu puts it, If we don't have faith as women that women can be good bosses, why would we think that someone else should give us the opportunity? If we don't believe in ourselves, who's ever going to believe in us?
Over to you readers: Would you prefer a male boss or a female boss? Tell us in our Facebook or LinkedIn communities and share some of the stories--both good and bad--about the bosses in your past.