The workplace can be heaven, hell, or somewhere in between depending on what you do, where you’re doing it, how you’re doing it, and who you’re doing it with. And there’s nobody who contributes more to that environment than your boss.
At some point in life, you’ll have a terrible boss and you’ll also hopefully have a good boss to make up for your terrible boss. And you’ll have a lot of bosses that are somewhere in between.
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In the professional arena, gender and stereotypes play a huge part, especially in leadership. The demeaning stereotypes about women who are assertive, confident and demanding as any man — and the sexist environment that fosters them — ensures that these women will be called many choice words that many men won’t.
But how does this affect perceptions of leadership from others?
Specifically, I was interested in how women view leadership in terms of gender, so I posed the simple question to a few women across different industries: “Is it easier to work for a man or woman? Or does it not make a difference?”
So that my friends, acquaintances, and kind strangers don’t get fired, their names have been changed but the following are the responses I received:
“As a woman who has worked for both, it’s been easier for me to work for a man. But I think that’s really indicative of my industry and my personality. I’m in IT and I like bosses who are no fuss, just want the facts, emotions are put aside, etc. I find that my woman bosses get sidetracked by how people will “feel” about things that need to get done and because of this, nothing gets done. Also my woman bosses have been very indecisive and that’s extremely difficult to deal with. But a man could have all of those qualities, too. This is just from personal experience.” — Valorie, 27
“Sometimes I like to work for men because they keep it on the up and up and I feel like women can be more judgmental. However, working with knowledgeable women who want to be mentors to you is the best! So, it’s really hard to say! It depends on attitude. Also, this is rude but I think it’s true: working with women who are uneducated (secretaries, etc) is harder than educated women. When I worked at a law firm interning in college, the paralegals thought I was coming for their jobs, for example. Even though I most certainly wasn’t interested in their jobs.” — Sasha, 26
“I don’t think it makes a difference. It really depends on their personality. I’ve worked with some women who were more ruthless than men I’ve worked for. I think there can be issues working for both genders. My friend works in social work and she deals with a lot of weird jealousy issues from her female boss because it’s a Christian organization and my friend is the only one there that isn’t pregnant, has kids, or has a husband/is married and if she ever talks about going out or basically having a social life, her boss will say weird things like, “Must be nice living so free all the time.” I’ve had some male bosses who were great to work for and others were not so great – again, it’s all been based on personality.” — Michelle, 28
“As a woman? I prefer working for men. Working for women has just not gone well for me. While I think there are exceptions to both, in my experience, women are much more catty, gossipy, passive aggressive, and hold onto things longer.” Danielle, 29
“It depends on the person completely. I have good and bad of both. I don’t think it can be separated by gender.” — Sherry, 28
“I think it depends if you’re a more emotional being or not. My male friend is pretty sensitive and likes that he can talk about his personal life with his female boss. I’d rather get the job done and not emote, so I prefer male bosses.” — Princess, 29
“I’ve worked for both. I think women can be more compassionate when you’re dealing with personal issues. I think men can be more direct when you’re dealing with professional issues. I prefer a person – man or woman – who knows how to be both. This type of boss is extremely difficult to find. The reality is a lot of people don’t know how to manage people – both men and women. So I think gender plays a role only insofar as society socializes men and women to be bosses or leaders differently. But really, it’s not “easy” to work for most people. A good boss is a rare thing to be cherished.” Nicole, 31
From this very limited consensus, it seems that women are either neutral or prefer to work for men. There seems to be the association of women as emotional or overly aggressive. Is it that women are these things, or is it that we only notice these attributes in women? It’s been said that women are harder on women, from the top looking down, and from the bottom looking up. Maybe that’s what’s going on here, too.
My take? I think working relationships are affected by multiple factors, gender being one of them. It’s not that gender is important in and of itself. But rather that the socialization of gender matters in the workplace and beyond. I think that women can be each other’s biggest supporters and also each other’s greatest enemy. The feeling of “there’s only room for a few of us” at the top still plagues us even when we ought to know better. I also think men can be truly interested in uplifting women, but they can also think of women as best in the position to be subordinates rather than equals or even superiors.
Admittedly, women are in a difficult position. If they do take the more direct approach, they might get labeled as that b-word. And when they don’t, they are not seen as assertive. Men seem to be in a better position, above all, of rarely getting labeled–at least negatively.
Ultimately, for all women in leadership, especially when working with other women, it’s clear that we need to be more cognizant of how we approach those who look up to us. Yes, it’s unfair that the onus is on us. But if we don’t who else will?