Monday, August 28, 2000

Female managers get less respect

Disciplined workers resent their authority

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Throughout the 1990s, Jessica Selasky has had a gut feeling that gender was mixing up worker and boss relations.

        She always asked the 20 or so people attending her Confidence Builders seminars to list three great communicators and rarely, if ever, did the managers and would-be corporate leaders put a woman on the list.

        After giving more than 100 seminars nationwide, Ms. Selasky said some conclusions were obvious:

        “When we talked about gender differences, most people when asked if they would rather have a male or female boss, about 75 percent said male boss, even though the seminars were co-ed,” said Ms. Selasky, president of the company that has offices in Boca Raton, Fla., and Cincinnati.

        “When I asked why, people would say that women tended to be petty and men were direct and to the point.”

        Ms. Selasky's inkling that workers were generally biased against female managers — even female workers — now has scientific backing through the efforts of a professor at Arizona State University.

        The academic, who thought recent gender studies of managers were flawed, looked at reprimands from 163 workplace situations and came to a startling conclusion:

        The average worker thought that the only thing worse than being reprimanded on the job was to be reprimanded on the job by a boss who was a woman.

        The study looked at reprimands across a broad swath of occupations — from warehouse workers to mahogany row, paper-pushers in cubicles to teachers, cashiers and accountants.

        “It's not popular with those who have feminist viewpoints who don't want to acknowledge or are hesitant to acknowledge that men and women managers may not be equally effective doing the same things,” said Leanne Atwater, professor of management at Arizona State University West near Glendale.

        “But if you want to influence a man (through discipline) and you're a female, you are going to have to do it in a different way than a male manager. Training in most management settings thinks that the same thing works for men and women. That is not the case.”

        Her study, “Gender and Discipline in the Workplace — Wait Until Your Father Gets Home,” found that gender influences the workplace in a variety of subtle ways.

        “I have a couple of take-aways from the study, but the first is that we probably need to be sensitive to unconscious biases,” Ms. Atwater said.

        Her study found that when a woman delivered the discipline, recipients of workplace punishment were:

        • Less likely to believe that the punishment was fair.

        • Less likely to accept responsibility for their behavior.

        • More likely to think the manager was incompetent or did not know how to deliver discipline.

        It also found that when female subordinates were asked whether they felt responsible for their bad behavior, 52 percent said no when a female boss read them the riot act. Only 18 percent responded no when the boss was male.

        Far more women and men preferred male supervisors and discipline from a man, even though male bosses were more severe than women. Men managers were about three times as likely to suspend or fire a subordinate, and only half as likely to deliver a tongue lashing.

        “It appears that while recipients are not less likely to change behavior in response to discipline by a female, their perceptions of the incident in terms of fairness are more negative,” she said.

        A follow-up survey of hypothetical discipline events found that the hypothetical recipients expressed significantly more anger when the discipline was delivered by a woman — even if the punishment was appropriate, Ms. Atwater said in a telephone interview.

        “Female managers may benefit from special training in how to deliver discipline and recipients may need to be made more aware of their stereotypes and gender expectations,” she said.

        Businesswoman Lauri Boisclair said she was not sure why women and men resented reprimands more from female bosses but suspected it may have something to do with information gathering techniques that women may be more likely to use.

        “Male supervisors, they don't care about the details, the reasons why,” she said. “I think they tend to go with the basic facts, rather than really discussing situations.

        “They have a tendency to snap while a women manager may call and say, "Tell me why you called in sick three times in a row' or missed a deadline. Let's discuss this, probe it a little deeper to try to correct the situation.

        “I think women are more verbal,” she said.

        Ms. Boisclair, who is president of the Blue Ash-based Account Receivable Solutions, is angered when she hears people say that those types of worker perceptions mean women are not ready to be managers and leaders.

        “That's a bunch of baloney,” she said. “You hear people say that women don't have the experience and haven't been in management long enough and that's why they are not apt to fire people, and it's just baloney.”

        Ms. Boisclair, who is president of the Blue Chip Chapter of the American Business Women's Association, a public service nonprofit organization, speculated that a woman's tendency to investigate longer can be viewed as indecision but actually is a sound business practice.

        “Women can be strong leaders and great managers at the same time,” she said.

        Ms. Atwater said that gender roles typically assigned to women may work against them in the workplace. They are considered more nurturing, supportive and mothering, she said, and those traits do not usually mesh with perceptions about managers who sack employees.

        In other words: A powerful woman seems to be a contradiction. If she behaves in a nurturing manner, then she is rejected as an unacceptable manager. But if she acts as a leader, Ms. Atwater said, then she is condemned as unfeminine.

        Women must figure out different ways to lead, motivate and reprimand if they are to be successful managers, she said, although the study determined that men and women were equally effective in changing workers' behavior — in spite of workers' perceptions.

        Ms. Selasky, too, sees attitudes changing, particularly among younger female workers. She thinks it may have something to do with organized athletics:

        A female worker born in 1958 is not as likely to have been exposed to organized sports such as soccer and basketball — where team skills are developed — as a female worker born in 1978.

        “All those years ago, girls didn't have team sports,” Ms. Selasky said. “Boys have always had that and so learned at an early age about teamwork and viewing a coach as an authority figure.

        “I think younger women and men are much more tolerant and accepting, and there are fewer barriers. The younger the worker, the more balanced they will be when looking at gender.”

Stereotypes can work against women
Discipline from women not accepted well

- Female managers get less respect
Ethical standards becoming muddled
Teamwork key to setting, meeting goals
Promotions & new on the job