Women bosses: caught between a rock and a hard place

by Oct 24, 20133Plus, EDITORIAL

Scary stats or warped perception of women bosses?

According to research carried out this summer on women bosses by the fashion brand Hobbs, 34% of women aged 18 and over said they would prefer to have a male boss. Workers aged between 25 to 34  were reported as the most likely age group to show a preference for a male leader. Tapping into a pool of 2,500 employees, many women in their late 20s and early 30s, indicated that working with the right boss was significant to kick-starting their careers before starting a family. The study also observed that 25% of male employees also preferred a male boss.

So, do we treat these stats seriously? After all what is implicit, is that 75% of men and 66% of women, presumably have no gender bias when it comes to their boss.

So why all the brouhaha?

Nicky Dulieu,  CEO of Hobbs, suggested in the Telegraph that female employees “lacked confidence in other women at work, as well as in their own ability to succeed.” When participants were asked to rank the qualities needed in a leader compared to what are considered male vs female qualities: women scored higher on three out of the top four attributes considered necessary to be a good a leader – good communication, listening and organisation skills. Yet women bosses are still not thought of as highly as male bosses.

Why is this?

Ms Dulieu, claims she “suffered from “impostor syndrome” early on in her career, where she expected someone to come along and “expose” her for not knowing what she was doing. Women need to support each other more; have a great female network you can trust and where you can share those insecurities, and that was quite a turning point for me.” To tackle the lack of confidence among women – either about their own abilities or other women’s – Ms Dulieu suggested  “getting more role models” would help.

Best-selling author, television commentator and noted business journalist, Suzy Welch, identifies two types of women bosses.  She believes that managing emotional distances is one of the greatest challenges women face.  Does this inability to find emotional balance tend to land women bosses at both ends of the spectrum, contributing to stereotyping perceptions?  Or is this polarized positioning genuinely part of the problem, or simply more in the “doomed if we do, damned if we don’t” cycle.
  1. Ice  Queen:  Caricatured by the Miranda Priestly character in the movie The Devil Wears Prada, Ice Queens show little interest in anyone except themselves and their business objectives. With their frosty demeanors, high handed manner and low empathy interpersonal style, they fail to generate a sense of fun on the work place. Research reports that men are three times more likely (and successfully) than a woman to use humor and banter in the office to lighten a situation. Ice Queens struggle to praise staff and let their employees know they are valued.  Welch says ” They are managing emotional distances, yes, but by pushing their employees away. Ultimately, what a loss in terms of motivation and retention!” They are perceived as being aggressive, not assertive. A senior executive in the French pharmaceutical industry told me recently that a common conundrum for embryonic women leaders is the struggle between being assertive without being perceived as being aggressive,  thereby alienating their peers and reports.
  2. Good Mother: Good Mothers blur boundaries between boss and buddy.  They bring too much emotion into the work place. One piece of advice from the 3Plus Mini-Mentoring event in Paris to all women is:  “don’t bring baked goods to the office!” Good Mothers befriend their staff and become involved in their problems. They defer making tough decisions,  sharing difficult concerns or giving feedback, for fear of hurting any feelings. That is until there is a crisis. A senior Sales Director in the Telecommunication sector told me how she had carried and covered for a long serving, but under-performing direct report for many years, assuming his responsibilities.She had “mothered not managed”  resulting in damage to her own results. Good Mothers are perceived to be too soft. When those harsher decisions are required, employees are confused and hurt at what seems like a “betrayal”. Good Mothers in my experience often feel misunderstood and under-appreciated.

Ms Welch also suggests that finding one mentor all singing dancing ” cheerleader”  isn’t enough and she tapped into numerous: “Friends, colleagues, former bosses, a neighbor who was the CEO of her own  company—I turned to them all, and countless others, for advice and counsel. I  had mentors who lasted three months and others who lasted three years.”

So the debate continues. But are these headlining gender stereotypes based on fact, or just more in the “lose if you do/lose if you don’t” scenario that many women leaders confront on a regular basis? Whatever the answer, the issues of finding role models and mentors whether plural or singular, is one that is universally recognized to be key for women to develop and hone their management styles to become successful leaders.


If you would like to find a mentor check out the 3Plus Mentoring and Coaching Programs NOW!




Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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Dates for the Diary


September 9th - Podcast recording Talkpush -  Discussion recruitment for inclusive workplaces
September  21st -  ENGIE Gender bias in Performance Assessment online
October 26th - Banque de Luxembourg Préjugés sexistes dans le processus de recrutment.



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