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“Disheartened:” Americans Still Prefer Male Bosses

Written by Michele Mavi

Disheartened: Americans Still Prefer Male BossesShows like Masters of Sex and Mad Men take us back to an era where the professional divide between men and women was plain as day.  While today’s working world gives the impression that we’ve come a long way, a recent Gallup poll reported that only 23% of Americans would prefer to work for a female boss. Though this is the highest number since Dr. Masters hired Virginia Johnson, the shocking news is that more women still say they prefer to work for a man.

Clearly, change doesn’t come easily but what remains unclear from these statistics is the precise profile of the progressive 23% of the labor force. Without that information it’s really difficult to make a true analysis. I was so disheartened by these numbers that I decided to do a bit of research on my own.  With a random sampling of about 15 men and 15 women found at a nearby Starbucks, J Crew and a local neighborhood eatery, I asked each the question, “Who do you prefer to work for – a man or a woman –and why?”

Disheartened: Americans Still Prefer Male Bosses

The biggest reason stated for preferring a man was that “Men don’t take things personally and don’t over analyze or deliberate. If you have a disagreement, you get past it a lot quicker, too.” Another common response was that “they don’t micromanage and trust you to get the job done.”

While the informal results were in line with the Gallup poll, I was surprised to find only one woman who categorically prefers working for a woman.

Her reason: less likely to be sexually harassed and that women were more interested in helping you further your career. I then asked her what she did for a living which I think is essential to understanding the answer. She’s a lawyer. I ceased to be shocked. It’s safe to say that people don’t leave companies, they leave their managers. As staffing professionals, we have an obligation to our clients to make the best matches possible. That ability stems from really understanding the management style of our clients and specific hiring managers, and being able to predict the chemistry between manager and applicant.  By doing that, we ensure the best long-term match.

This also sheds light on another important issue as well: management training.  One of the most important obligations a company has is to choose their managers wisely and to really assess the personality of the person being hired for the role. After all, being great at the ground level doesn’t mean you have the necessary traits to be a top-level manager. We see it all the time in our own industry, the highest billers aren’t necessarily the best at nurturing others to reach their full potential and rarely have the time it takes to put in the effort to be good at it.

But getting back to the issue of gender, the good news is that while change may be slow, it is inevitable. The number of women in the workforce has recently surpassed the number of men. More and more women are taking on managerial roles, getting their MBAs, and taking on leadership positions. Hopefully we’ll see a faster rate of growth in our satisfaction with women bosses than we have the last 60 years when the first Gallup poll of this kind was published.

Younger generations don’t seem to have as much of a bias. As they grow professionally in their careers, so will the generation of women managers they report to. But regardless of industry, it comes down to this: everyone wants a reasonable boss.  As one female journalist shopping in J Crew stated, “Just give me someone sane.”  I think that’s what we all want.  When we get that, gender doesn’t really seem to matter at all.

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Michele Mavi has more than ten years of experience as a recruiter, interview coach, and resume writer. She is a natural motivator and loves coaching candidates through job searches and career changes. She is currently back at Atrium Staffing where she is responsible for training all new recruiters as the Director of Internal Recruiting, Training, and Content Development. 

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. David Gee

    This is a fascinating topic Michele, and yes, the findings of the Gallup Poll surprises me. A bit anyway. It is interesting to note in that same poll preference for a female boss is actually higher among those who currently work for a woman. So perhaps in addition to a long-established gender bias, there is simply a fear of the unknown for those who have never worked for a female, and really have no idea what it’s like.

    Alice Eagly is chairman of the department of social psychology at Northwestern University, and as a researcher on managerial behavior, has read hundreds of studies that have compared women and men as managers.

    She says “women are less ‘bossy,’ probably because people dislike bossy women even more than bossy men. As a result, female managers are more collaborative and democratic than male managers. Second, compared with men, women use a more positive approach by encouraging and urging others rather than a negative approach of scolding and reprimanding them. Third, women attend more to the individuals they work with, by mentoring them and taking their particular situations into account.”

    There is certainly plenty of room for debate on the topic, and no definitive right or wrong answer likely. Thanks for getting the conversation started.

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  2. Kinzy Janssen

    Thankfully, Gallup didn’t phrase it as a black and white choice, allowing a third option of “no preference.” That would be my answer. How can you categorically say that you prefer one gender’s management style over another?

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  3. Jerry

    Most women prefer male bosses and can’t stand a female boss. That is why it is so one sided and will always be that way. Get real.

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  4. Gerry

    Since the author of this article, and the commenters, cited actual research, I would love to know the source of your statement Jerry that “most women prefer male bosses and can’t stand a female one.” If you can’t provide an actual verifiable source for that, which I doubt you can, then get real yourself and keep your archaic, misogynist views to yourself. And things are in fact changing and there is no doubt a female boss in your future. And since studies show the majority of women are better at “mind-reading” than most men; that is they can read the emotions written on people’s faces more quickly and easily, you will likely find yourself out of a job when your boss realizes what you really think of her simply because of her gender.

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  5. JT

    I don’t have a formal survey backing me up, but I can tell you that as a woman with 30+ years in the workforce, I prefer men to women as supervisors. I’ve worked for both, and men far outrank the women. There is less drama with men, they are more direct, they are far more easy-going, more forgiving, and are more inclined to just let me do my work without interference. Perhaps I just have been blessed with great managers who happen to be men, but in looking at the female managers I’ve been around, I’m inclined to say that men are just generally easier to work with and for.

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  6. SW

    I’ve been on the flip side of this where I had a male manager that micromanaged me and others and was very dramatic and over the top about every situation. Every little thing was a big deal. It pushed me to the point of not being happy with my job. I left the job shortly after he because my superior, and my new job is a female manager who is completely the opposite.

    The bottom line is people make gender assumptions and it’s really a case-by-case basis. If you are secure as a manager and secure in hiring quality people that have a great track record, male or female, having to deal with the downsides of employee/manager relationships is really few and far between.

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  7. EF

    Of the four main jobs I have had in my life so far, I’ve had three female managers and one male. All three females were really pretty horrible to work for: insecure, emotional, dramatic, vindictive, and made most decisions based on personal feelings rather than facts or solid business rationales. My male manager is more direct, more objective, and micromanages less than any of the women. I’m in Human Resources and I’m female. These three proved all the stereotype of why some people don’t like working with women. And I’m really sorry about it.

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  8. michele mavi

    I think the biggest truth is that we’re all individuals and while we can take a poll on gender preferences but every experience is unique, meaning every experience with a woman boss is unique to that particular person and the same is true for a man…as we’re all people and not just a gender it’s hard to categorically say you have a preference because you’re preference is based in very unique experiences with those bosses. This may be an instance where a Gallup poll simply can’t be cut and dry. It’s not the same type of question as asking someone’s gender preference in a romantic situation where people are more categorical. When people I spoke to had very strong opinions they seemed to be grounded in very personal and specific experiences. For example the lawyer who mentioned sexual harassment as a reason for preferring women bosses. But many did have the kinds of responses most of us would like to hear, that there is no preference as long as, the boss is fair and just and yes sane! That “as long as” is an important qualifier and allows for objectivity in the evaluation based on individual factors and not on gender. I think we’re still moving towards the right direction and I don’t think we can always trust the numbers, especially when they seem to be trying to simplify a rather complex issue.

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