There has been plenty written about awful women bosses. Time to turn the table and focus on how employees behave with a woman boss!
Type of issues women bosses and men bosses are asked to deal with
R&J is a large consulting firm with two managing partners, John and Leticia, and several hundred associates. Leticia is regularly approached by associates with the following types of situations:
“Rachel and I share the same admin and Rachel is overusing her. So every time I need something, the admin is busy working for Rachel.”
“I’m very angry at Peter having called my client without asking me first. I had to find out from my client! Imagine my embarrassment.”
“Every time I try to reserve the conference room, Margaret or Ernest ‘coincidentally’ need it for the same time. This is unacceptable!”
John is regularly approached by associates with these kinds of situations:
“I’d like to discuss with you a strategy for client X so we can nail that account.”
“Let’s talk about how to deal with the hiring issue that client Y has brought up. I think we can help them with that.”
“I have an idea for a new service we can offer that can take the firm to a whole new level.”
In other words, Leticia is more often than not consulted on emotional, internal (or external) fights and expected to help employees resolve their personal problems. John, on the other hand, is mostly approached on business-related issues.
The reality experienced by women bosses
This distinction is pretty clear at R&J because there are two managing partners, one of each gender. But this is exactly what many, many women bosses experience in the workplace. They are faced with an expectation to respond like sympathetic mothers when employees, who behave as toddlers, come to them crying foul. Could it be possible that when a woman boss is not willing to put up with the kind of behavior she’s almost expected to tolerate she’s called a bitch?
The topic of awful women bosses and the appellatives they are called, from “a bitch” to “too bossy,” has been in the media for many years. Movies such as Working Girl and The Devil Wears Prada have contributed to etching the stereotype in our collective unconscious, making it even harder to eradicate.
I admit that there are some women bosses who could use a good dose of self-examination and modulation of their leadership styles. Just as there are plenty of men bosses who could benefit from the same. Yet I notice that we seldom, if ever, take a look at how differently employees behave with men and women bosses and what their expectations are of each gender.
Evaluating your behavior towards women bosses
I know it’s hard to admit that you are misbehaving at work. But, if we are to move away from stereotyping women bosses as bitchy, may I suggest that we start by exploring employees’ behavior at work? You can start by taking a thorough look at your own behavior towards your men and women bosses. Ask yourself the following:
- Do you approach men and women bosses with the same kind of issues?
- Do you expect your women bosses to be more empathetic towards you?
- Do you use the same type of emotional intensity when you approach men and women bosses?
- Do you use similar language to express your concerns, ideas, problems?
Next time, before you call your boss a bitch or you jump at the opportunity to call any woman boss or leader names, take a deep breath and give her the benefit of the doubt. Could it be that she’s not accepting the unwritten expectation that she should be empathetic all the time? Could it be that she expects to be treated with the same deference that male leaders are treated in the organization?
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