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How to Win When Your Boss is a Woman

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Jessica Miller-Merrell, blogging4jobs

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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