Working women no longer prefer a man for a boss

June 02, 1993

A nationwide survey of working women reveals that, in a reversal of a decades-old trend, the majority of women said they did not prefer male bosses.

The Working Woman magazine survey, "What Women Think of Women Bosses," appears in the June issue.

"We wanted to know, as more and more women move into management, are they fulfilling or contradicting stereotypes?" Editor in Chief Lynn Povich says. "Our survey reveals the state of relations between women in the office, and shows not only how far women have come but how the experience, performance and, finally, the sheer numbers of women bosses are shattering many of the stereotypes."

The results:

* Eighty percent of the respondents reject the stereotypes of women bosses as bitches, wimps and seductresses. Only 20 percent still believe that women are moodier than men, and they do not see women as being more wishy-washy, manipulative, domineering or unqualified than male bosses.

What frustrates most of those surveyed is not that female bosses are worse than male bosses, but that they aren't any better.

Nancy Hamlin, a gender-issues consultant to Fortune 500 companies, told Working Woman: "With a woman boss, there is the belief that she will be better -- more caring and sharing. That's why evaluations of women [by women] are always black or white -- they're either great or terrible.`

* Eighty-five percent of those surveyed have had women bosses, and the experience has made about one-third of them more negative. The most common gripes:Women are tougher on female employees (34 percent), and they are picky (38 percent).

However, those who disparage women bosses most are at the bottom of the pay, job and education scales: Forty-two percent of clerical workers (vs. 28 percent of managers) say women are tougher on their female employees. About twice as many clerical workers say they would rather work for a man (30 percent) than a woman (16 percent). Of those earning less than $15,000 a year, 47 percent say women are harder on women, compared with 20 percent of those earning $75,000 or more.

* Women bosses do rate as more sensitive to work/family issues. Forty-one percent of those surveyed have found their female bosses to be sensitive to the balancing act, compared with 16 percent who categorized their male bosses as sensitive (65 percent say their male bosses are somewhat sensitive).

* An overwhelming majority of respondents, 83 percent, say the best way for women to help other women is to mentor them and set a good example: Sixty-nine percent say they should promote work/family personnel policies.

* Only 54 percent surveyed say women bosses have a responsibility to help women rise through the ranks.

* Fifty percent say women managers should do what's best for the company without making a point of speaking out for women.

* Seventy-two percent say women managers should do what's best for their own careers.

* Experience makes a big difference in attitude: Sixty-one percent of women 40 and older believe women have a responsibility to help other women climb the corporate ladder, while only 45 percent of those under 30 agree.

"We feel this is a reflection of the attitude of younger women who have not experienced or actualized the difficulties of sexism and the glass ceiling,` says Ms. Povich.

* Women who say they have experienced discrimination are much more likely to mentor other women.

The survey polled more than 2,000 women earning $35,000 to $75,000 who work in management or supervisory positions.

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