Some bosses pave the way some are just roadblocks

Working women

April 27, 1992|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

Back in the 1970s, Midge Rothrock says, she "had a boss from hell."

"He was a practicing alcoholic and quite good at it," says Ms. Rothrock, who was a manager. "He was driven in his work, had a mistress who was a co-worker -- and I reported directly to him."

Though Ms. Rothrock now is a high-level executive who earns in the six figures as manager of human resource development for Hughes Electro-Optical and Data Systems Group in El Segundo, Calif., she believes her former boss at a different company temporarily hurt her career.

"He fostered an environment where a lot of subtle, negative things happened to women," says Ms. Rothrock, who trains some 6,000 people yearly out of Hughes' work force of 55,000 and is responsible for the company's formal mentoring program.

Ms. Rothrock says her boss also "sexually harassed his female employees -- a dirty little secret in the 1970s. And he held me back from moving ahead -- I did the work of a vice president but he wouldn't promote me."

Today, Ms. Rothrock has a good boss, Dick Battle, director of human resources. "He never is in violation of the human resource tenets we try to foster, allows me to do my job and to make decisions -- and he doesn't take credit for my work."

In a recent study, 86 percent of 120 female executives said they had had a good boss at some point in their careers, but 91 percent said they had had doozies.

All of the women are members of Exec-U-Net, a national networking organization based in Weston, Conn.

The survey was conducted by Cynthia Buzzetta, president of her management consulting firm in Wellesley, Mass.

In it, respondents described the rotten bosses -- Ms. Buzzetta kindly labeled them "hinderers" -- as "insecure, scared, fearful, threatened, secretive, closed, loner, egomaniacal, self-important, ego-driven, incompetent, psychotic, abusive, exploitative, hostile, sexist, racist and unbalanced."

The bosses described as "helpers" were referred to as "honest, high integrity, open, good communicators, risk-takers, delegators, intelligent, skilled, bright, mentors, supportive, trusting and empowering."

Ninety-one percent of the women are longtime professionals who had at least five bosses during their careers, says Ms. Buzzetta, also a regional director for Exec-U-Net, which has 1,500 members, all senior executives. Three hundred of the organization's members are women.

The kind of boss you have directly affects your career, Ms. Buzzetta says. "These women are pioneers and survivors. They've been working a long time, are smart, tenacious and self-confident. Good bosses are one of the critical success factors as to why the women are where they are."

Fortunately, she adds, the women surveyed "have had enough good bosses so that they were not permanently derailed by bad ones."

The executives surveyed ranged in age from 30 to 55. Seventy-three percent earned more than $81,000 annually; 8 percent, more than $150,000.

All but one had undergraduate degrees; 55 percent had master's degrees; and 8 percent had doctorates. Their job levels included director, senior manager, vice president and company officer.

Of the women who cited having at least one helpful manager, 93 percent said the good boss was male; 7 percent were female. Eighty-five percent of those who had bad bosses said they were male; 15 percent had bad female bosses.

"Managers influence not only the work performance, career growth and confidence of subordinates, but also the ability of the work unit to do its job well," Ms. Buzzetta says. "The work force has changed in complexity and diversity and will continue to do so in this decade. A good boss allows you to grow, and when the boardroom is made up of only 55-year-old white men, we have to start addressing this for what it is, a bottom-line issue -- not a sociological one."

Irene Campos Carr, coordinator of women's studies at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, has had good bosses and bad.

One of her bad bosses put her down every time she made a suggestion.

"He didn't like my ideas, my style or anyone that made waves," says Ms. Carr, who has a doctorate in adult continuing education. "He just wanted people to tell him he was great."

On the other hand, a good boss "taught me how to deal with people, how to be diplomatic and how to wheel and deal without it looking that way," she says.

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