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Bosses: Male or Female? Does Gender Matter?

Posted: December 3, 2012

Do women prefer women or male bosses? Or is gender and leadership an irrelevant question today?

A few weeks ago, a reader sent me this comment after reading a piece that I wrote for Women’s Web on how the marital status of a woman is still the subject of much debate and discussion as far as the job market is concerned.

This reader said that his wife was in the process of hiring household help and that one question she would ask without fail was whether the woman was married or not. Surprised, he asked her what difference it made and she replied that, ‘If she is unmarried, she will spend most of her time attending to calls from her lover or would be soon married off.’

While on the surface this seemed to be a common enough sentiment, it got me thinking.

Are we women, actually the biggest obstacles to other women? Do we make it harder for other women to succeed in the work place, no matter what the nature of the job is? And as employees, do women prefer men or women as bosses?

I’ve mostly worked with female bosses and I’ve always found them to be mentor like. The couple of male bosses that I have had were not exactly bad either. So finding it hard to write an article on the same from my personal experience, I decided to crowd-source my research.

So on Twitter and Facebook , I posted this question and waited for the responses to come in.

“Do women prefer male bosses or female bosses? Does gender matter?”

While, I was looking at responses from women, the first few came in from men via Twitter and they were all on the same page.

‘Women prefer men as bosses,’ all of them responded.
And when I asked them why they thought so, most of them said that there was a perception that female bosses tended to be tougher and that men were more sympathetic and considerate towards their female employees.

However, the responses from the women were overwhelmingly contradictory to what the men thought.
Most of the women who pitched in by sharing their personal stories and experiences categorically stated that gender did not matter and that it depended on the bosses’ individual style and personality. Most of them also said that as long as the bosses respected their work and them, it hardly mattered whether their boss was male or female. There were also those who said that they had often found female bosses to better leaders overall and even mentors.

But then there was also a small minority of women who responded saying that they had had better experiences while working with a male boss.

‘Female bosses can be petty and bitchy,’ they said. ‘Male bosses have always worked better for me,’ another said.

Now, according to this very recent survey done in the United Kingdom, only 6% of 800 female workers said that they want to work with a female boss.

A 2009 study claimed that most women prefer working for men as well, as men are less prone to moods.  However there are studies that claim the exact opposite as well and that most employees prefer to work under female bosses.

There are either hardly any studies done on this topic in India and the sub-continent or if done, they are not accessible to people like me who have been trawling the Internet for data of any kind on the same. However based on the responses I received, I would say that in theory at least, gender does not matter to most working women as long as they are led well and the work they do is respected.

I would love to hear from the working women out there on whether they have any gender preferences as far as their bosses are concerned and why.

Your turn, ladies.

Image: Shutterstock

Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a Writer and Travel columnist. Her fourth book and first collection

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  1. In my first job, both the leads were female and I loved having worked with them. After that I have worked with many other managers and after some industry experience, I can say one thing for sure, It all depends on the individual personality. The only preference I have is a for a good manager. Male or Female hardly matters.

    • Great to see all your comments. It is wonderful to see how all of you believe that gender does not matter. I especially love Jaya’s inspiring message at the end of her comment.
      I too truly hope that such sexist stereotypes dissolve as we march towards 2013.
      Thank you for reading and commenting everyone.

  2. I think this topic of women make terrible bosses is a bit over done. In todays times with tools like 360 degree feedback, Development centre, coaching and strong Management development program.. most new managers are able to iron out the traits (read personality) that makes then less than effective. Employee feedback matters too much especially now to get bad managers in the way of good employees :))
    I hope these stereotypes dissolve as we march forward to 2013

  3. I don’t think gender matters. Honestly in the six years I worked for a product company, I had a male boss and it worked out great. During projects we would have female team leads and the collaboration was phenomenal. If anything both were sensitive and motivating. I think it is important to have a manager who does not see you as a threat and always has your back. I think most managers are not trained for the job neither do they have enough exposure with clients outside India. I don’t think gender matters here at all just qualifications.

  4. I do not think gender matters. My first manager was a woman and the experience was far from nice.She was extremely prejudiced and sometimes very vocal in her opinion that she would prefer men to women in her team as they could work longer hours. But I have met nicer managers since and it would be unfair to generalize based on that one experience. Men and Women have differnet skills and this comes across in their management styles

  5. Ok, a contrary POV. I do think gender matters, although not in the sense of “are women bosses any better/ worse than men” etc. As many have pointed out, at an individual level, I don’t think it matters. However, the way workplaces evolved to basically suit a single wage earner (who was male and supported at home by a full time female homemaker) does mean that the expectations for who a boss is and what the roll is have been set by men. In that sense, female bosses are always measured against a default, male standard. Empathises with her team members? Too soft. Strong-minded? She’s trying to be one of the boys. Or bitchy. Or frustrated. I feel traits that could be individual, are more often ascribed to gender when it comes to a female boss.

  6. Clearly, the men out weigh the women, in so far as their choices to work with/have Boss’ who are women. I feel the same. Its a balance of energies. Women having entered the workplace later are more judgmental and difficult to work with, because they are demanding too. Men take work in their stride. They appreciate competitive and competent colleagues (may not do so at home maybe) with drive, but they don’t go over their top when it comes to work. That is a great relief! Often, a joy to work with men.

  7. i have worked with both.. yes women boss are good mentors and do understand family sentiments when kid is unwell, or its MIL,FIL needs your presence at home.. i liked that during my initial days where i even learn work-family balance art from my manager.
    but now i like the equality in gender, the way my male boss demands work from me, and practical side in construction field and updated knowledge gaining.. the only thing i didnt like the insensitivity towards my transfer to location where my hubby is living. for him i am asset to work, so he is not bothered about my family, which a lady boss would have understood. :).

  8. Aparna brought out a pragmatic viewpoint. I am a male and have worked with female bosses some of whom were professionally aggressive as well as those who have exercised intelligent softness/tact without compromising on work results. But that is more of 80/20 paradigm.

  9. I started my career working with Female boss.I relish that experience till date.She taught me a lot about balancing work life and home life.However Six years down the line,I strongly believe gender does not matter as long as the person is professional and empathetic.

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