I am guilty. As a woman I was one of those who used to say: I prefer a male boss than a female boss.
Yes, I said it all the time throughout my 20s. I said it with bravado and a hint of provocation, mostly while speaking with another woman.
It was true. In the first 12 years of my professional life I’ve only had to report to a female manager not more than 3 times. I am not even sure if it’s really as many as 3 times. And during those times it was not a good experience. Either they weren’t supportive or I felt that they were threatened by their other women staff that they ended up creating tensions in the team.
If I compare that with the numerous men I’ve had to report to, I would have to say that I prefer men to women because I had more experience with male bosses. I can honestly say, if I was to use statistics, that there’s only 1 in 3 chance I will get a bad male boss compared to 3 in 3 chance for the bad female boss.
But here’s the funny thing about statistics. It doesn’t show the pool of male bosses that I’ve had. So to the 3 female bosses, I’ve probably had about 15 male ones. (I was working in consulting for the first 12 years of my professional life, by the way. So, every new project had a different set of project managers and managers to deal with.) Also, my little bit of statistics did not mention the fact that I work in IT – one of the most male dominated industries known right now.
So what I’m trying to say is: I was an idiot for saying that I prefer a male boss than a female boss.
What really happened was that I became conditioned to work with men and not with women. How could I even compare when the numbers are so skewed? Of course, I had more chances of having a great male boss – because the pool of male bosses are bigger. And for the 3 bad female managers I’ve had, there’s an equivalent of 5 bad male bosses. Also, as in the paradox of value, since it’s very rare for me to experience female bosses I placed higher value and higher expectations on them. I would remember the bad experiences with female bosses because they were few and far between.
If it was not common to have female bosses, then I was lucky enough to get a couple in my 20s. I can just imagine how difficult it was for them to manage and lead. They had so much to prove and so few opportunities to prove them. When they get trusted to lead they didn’t get the leeway that their more common male leaders received. They were judged from the get go. And if they experienced what I experienced just to get assigned a leadership role – they must have had to go through hoops.
I can just imagine how many meetings they’ve had to go to where there were 10 males and just them as the sole female. Or being in an interview panel of 5 male interviewers (No kidding, I experienced this. Surprisingly I got the job). Or having to fight for their ideas to get heard only for a male manager to steal it or not get patronised every time they came up with a great solution. Or be manterrupted – all the time. Or be mansplained the exact same idea they just gave 5 minutes ago. Not to mention the sexist jokes and talks about their wives they’ve had to put up with.
But that was my 20s. Thankfully, I’ve since grown up and I’ve re-conditioned myself to work with both men and women. The female bosses are still rare, but I’ve met more and my pool of GOOD female bosses have grown, too!
I’ve had a great program manager who was looking after 5 different projects, 1000-words-per-minute talker, a magic coffee drinker, passionate people person who really looked after me. I think reporting to her was the first time I felt heard, appreciated for my ideas and allowed to properly lead. Then I also met a finance director who was a straight-talker, made everything happen by forming great relationships with everyone. She just had this aura about her where you feel you can trust her right away. She was genuine and honest. And I really believe that’s her secret leadership thing – being genuine and honest.
What I noticed about female bosses is that in some way big or small they need to be on guard for those moments where their bad experiences might happen again or the feelings of those bad experiences rear their ugly heads again. Being on guard is a hindrance for them to connect to others or focus on the issues facing them. But when these female bosses let their guards down, when they finally let themselves be confident and authentic – that’s when all the good stuff about being a female boss happens.
So, I would just like to say: Go the female bosses!