Confusion for Bosses

My women staff will come to me and say, “How’s your boyfriend?” They feel like a relationship with me should be all access, and I don’t want to set up a situation where I’m becoming this kind of friend with them—not just a friend but an intimate friend. We tell all. Then all of a sudden I’ve got to be the person who says, “Get that done. Get it done tonight.” Then that’s a betrayal of womanhood to assert my authority when it’s going to cost them something. In chapter 2, we considered the negative consequences for female bosses when they are too distant or aloof and do not meet the relational expectations of their female staff. Letitia, a white technology manager in her forties, explained the dilemma that Penny faces as the boss: “It’s as though they expect you to subordinate the boss-subordinate relationship to the woman-friend relationship. They would not ask that of a man.” What is the answer? Both scholars and about 25 percent of the women in this study propose that women learn to make a distinction between being friends and being friendly with women at work, especially when they are the boss. I would go a step further and say that it does not need to be an either/or option—that we can be both friends and friendly as the boss, but we need to be able to name whether we are the boss or a friend in any given interaction, with a clear understanding of how the relational rules or expectations are different in each situation. Kathy, a technology manager, explained how this approach works for her:

I do have two women I was friends with before I was promoted to management. I think we do a wonderful job of saying, “All right, this is a professional conversation.” If it’s a professional conversation, they know there are some things I cannot talk about. And if it’s not a professional conversation anymore, we are also clear with each other about that.
When Kathy says the women are clear about when they are having a professional conversation and when they are not, this means that she and her friends have specified where the boundaries are for each of them in a professional conversation. In other words, they have specified what they can and cannot talk about in their professional roles so that the expectations are clear. More details about a tool to accomplish this type of successful boundary management will be described later in this chapter. But before we go there, let’s take a look at a type of boundary confusion that can be particularly destructive if not handled well: when a friend becomes your boss.   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

Leave a Comment