How to Win When Your Boss is a Woman


Having worked for
both male and female bosses, it is no secret that the sexes see work,
priorities, and life differently. My male boss would often cut out of the
office at 4:30 p.m. while a female boss would call me at 8 p.m. on a
weekend. Some of this is work style,
but science has proven that men think, lead and react differently than their
female counterparts. As an HR professional who likely has a female boss, it
can help to know it isn’t just you.

If you are a woman
working for a female boss, don’t be fooled into thinking she is a glass-ceiling
busting leader ready to kick inequality to the curb. Maybe she secretly yearns to be a stiletto
feminist, but the reality is that women in leadership roles have businesses
with the same breakdown as their male counterparts. For example, a study of the banking industry reported by Forbes found that regardless of what the sex of the
branch manager was, the breakdown of men to women in executive versus entry
level roles (think tellers) was the same. Just 38 percent of executives were female versus 83 percent of the
tellers.

Okay, so your female
boss isn’t going to help you bust through the glass ceiling any faster than a
male counterpart. Forbes also reported
on a 2008 study showed that women preferred working for a sole male versus a
female
by 63
percent. Another study that same year
might provide clues as to why. Women
reported feeling distress and even physical stress symptoms when reporting to a
female superior. This study begs the
question, is it the female leader or is it the subordinate who is creating the
stressful situation?

While it may sound
like working for a woman is second to working for a man, it isn’t always the
case. In fact, Gallup polls dating back to
1953 show that the average American worker preferred working for a man 66
percent of the time. Only five percent
preferred a female (29 percent had no preference). Fast forward to 2009, and 32 percent picked a
male boss; 22 percent chose a female supervisor; and 46 percent didn’t care
either way.

And, working in a
women-led office can mean you as an employee have more say in decision-making
processes. A study reported by the Huffington Post revealed that women managers gave more individual
feedback to their employees, had increased communication and were more
democratic when it came to decisions.

Many a book has been written
about female bullying other women in the workplace. Women seem to feel threatened by other women
in the workplace and can sabotage each other. I had a female boss who would publicly rip apart her female subordinates
for the minutest detail while incessantly showering male employees with
praise. These displays were so frequent
and apparent that they made all staff uncomfortable—even the males when they
were receiving the glowing recognition.

Varying theories
try to explain women’s leadership challenges in the workplace from there being
few spots for women leaders and therefore high competition, the “nice syndrome”
where women want everyone to like them, differences in communication styles
or a need to be more assertive. Science
has even proven that men and women actually see things visually
differently.

While
science and theories do little to help you navigate your female boss and her
style, it is often comforting to know you are not alone. And, you should probably give women leaders a
break considering they are relative newcomers to these roles. While men have had thousands of years to
assert themselves and refine their roles, women leaders in the workplace is
still in its infancy—just wait until it’s all grown up!

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR is a workplace and technology strategist specializing in social media. She’s an author who writes at Blogging4Jobs. You can follow her on Twitter @blogging4jobs

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