Why Do Many Women Prefer a Male Boss?

Gallup survey confirmed that both women and men prefer a male boss. While the percentage who prefer a female boss has increased since 1953 when Gallup began asking this question, women would still choose a male (40 percent) over a female (27 percent) boss by a 13-percent margin. If almost half of the women in the workforce do not want to be led by women, this could pose a significant challenge for us as female leaders. One reason for this lack of support for female leaders might be the different expectations that many women have of how female leaders should behave. A participant in my research on women’s workplace relationships reflected a sentiment I heard frequently from both research participants and my coaching clients. The participant, a financial services manager, said, “I worked for a woman who was more task focused, which made it really uncomfortable for me. When a guy does that [is task focused], it doesn’t bother me as much.” Another research participant, who worked as a human resources manager, described her disappointment with a female boss who was not as friendly as she expected. She said, “I would rather work for a man. Then I would know what to expect.” Where do these different expectations come from? My research reveals that women expect more from a relationship with female leaders; these relational expectations reflect something I call women’s friendship rules. Women expect female leaders to build connection and trust through sharing and listening. Yet the masculine norms of most workplaces discourage relationship work as a “waste of time” or “coddling” and instead value task focus and autonomy. A woman engineer recently told me that she received a lower performance rating than she thought she deserved and was told that she spends too much time chatting with her staff, listening to them, and asking for their input. She was told that to prove herself ready for advancement, she has to demonstrate toughness and stop coddling her predominantly female staff. Her team’s results were terrific, but her style did not match the company norm for effective leadership. Her superiors did not understand that she was doing what she had to do to get such positive results. Adopting a masculine style and staying aloof from your employees might seem to be the simplest action you can take. However, scholars show the importance of relational skills for effective leadership, and staying aloof can backfire for a female leader. Not only might other women at your workplace feel uncomfortable with you, but your aloofness might also demotivate them and affect their productivity. We’ll look at other reasons that many women say they prefer a male boss in future blogs. Of course, not all women dislike having female bosses. Many women in my study and many female clients report feeling supported by female leaders in a way they do not experience with men. For example, these women said that their female leaders are more understanding about their struggles with deciding when to start a family or their needing time off for children’s events. Three Tips for Leading Women Here are some actions you can take to address your staff’s expectations and be an effective leader of women:

  1. Be friendly and relational with female staff members. Show an interest in the personal lives of your staff by asking about their weekends and vacations and inquiring about sick spouses or children. But be sensitive to cultural differences. In some cultures, sharing personal information outside of the family is not appropriate. The only way to be sure you are being sensitive is to ask people what is comfortable for them.
  2. Share some personal information about yourself, within limits. For example, share stories about your weekends, family, and hobbies.
  3. Listen to complaints and problems—but put boundaries on how much time you are willing to do so. Let people know that you want to know when something is wrong in their personal or work lives and that you will help find solutions if you can. You need to know if something is distracting them from their work or if they are facing other barriers to their productivity, and they need to feel that you care about them as human beings.
The plethora of books about effective leadership rarely acknowledge that women often need one leadership style for leading men and a different style for leading women, while men can use the same style effectively with both genders. We can adjust our leadership styles to meet the different needs of the women and men who work for us. Our challenge is to use the leadership style that works best for those we are leading.]]>

Don’t Discuss Friendship Rules

  • “She should know what she did.”
  • “I shouldn’t have to say anything. She should be able to figure it out.”
  • “There isn’t any point in bringing it up because she would just get defensive.”
  • “I can’t trust her now so what’s the point?”
  • The taboo against discussion means that mismatched assumptions may not be discovered until damage has been done to the relationship. Vana, a Latina manager in the United States in her forties, explained,

    We never really stop and talk about what we expect from each other as friends. I know I would always help you out, but we never stop and say those things. We just, in our minds, expect it—and it’s our own fault that we get burned sometimes.

    It becomes even more imperative to be able to name and discuss our friendship rules in the workplace, where boundary and role confusion also enter the picture. We must learn to articulate and negotiate our friendship rules and develop relational courage so that we can stay present and in relationships when other women do not meet our expectations.   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>

    How Friendly to Be When You Are the Boss

    women tend to emphasize the fluid nature of the boundaries between personal life and work life. But fluid boundaries can also cause confusion. One research participant, Penny, an administrator in higher education, explained, “My female staff will come to me and say, ‘How’s your boyfriend?’ They feel like a relationship with me should be all access.” Penny wanted to be friendly but was afraid of undermining her authority as the boss. She wondered whether she should just keep a distance and stay aloof. In conducting research for my book on women’s relationships in organizations, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, I found that women expect closer relationships with female bosses than with male bosses. Sheri, a technology manager, expressed it this way: I had a woman boss who was more task focused, and it made it harder for me to work for her. With a guy, I would have expected [a task focus], but I expected a little bit more of a relationship from her. It was all she could do to say, “How was your weekend?” That made it real uncomfortable for me. If a guy did that, it wouldn’t bother me as much. This difference in expectations means that when female bosses do not invest the time to be friendly with female employees, these employees may not be as motivated or productive as they could be. The good news is that our comfort with fluid relationship boundaries can contribute to our successes at building teams and highly productive workforces. The bad news is that fluid boundaries can cause confusion and damage relationships when not handled well. What is the answer? Scholars, and about 25 percent of the women in my research, propose that women bosses learn to distinguish between being friends and being friendly with other women at work. I would go a step further and say that this does not need to be an either/or option. We can be both friends and friendly as the boss, but we need to be able to name our role—boss or friend—in any given interaction. We also need to have a clear understanding of how the relational expectations differ for these two roles. Use a Tool Called Role Hats Women leaders can learn to manage role and relationship boundaries. We can be friendly and still be respected as the boss. We can even be the bosses of friends without damaging the relationship. The key is to learn how to discuss and negotiate our role and relationship boundaries. Sharon, the CEO of a healthcare services organization, applies a useful tool called role hats: To be friends at work requires total transparency. I explicitly name the role that I’m coming from—boss or friend. And we are always clear about how the hats work—what I can and cannot talk about when I have my boss hat on and how I see my responsibilities. We can also be friends outside of work as long as we stay clear about our hats. The key, then, is to be explicit about your expectations. We can be friendly and still be the boss, but we must be clear about what wearing the boss hat means to us, as well as make sure we understand our employees’ expectations of us. Here are some steps you can take to make this work:

    1. Name each person’s functional role, such as boss, friend, or colleague.
    2. Discuss each person’s needs in each role and really listen to one another.
    3. Exchange suggestions for behaviors that could meet each person’s needs in each role.
    4. Establish ground rules for how you will alert each other to your use of a role hat, such as:
      1. Ask me which hat I’m wearing.
      2. Ask me to change hats any time.
    5. Communicate honestly with each other whenever you cannot comply with a request and always explain why.
    Good relationships at work are important for our well-being, satisfaction, and success. Because many women expect more of a relationship from female bosses than from males, we need to learn to invest in relationships and to manage their boundaries when necessary. And we can do this.]]>