10 March 2007

It's a Man's World

A recent survey by MSNBC and Elle suggests that stereotypes about sex and leadership are alive and well. While more than half our 60,000 respondents said a person's sex makes no difference to leadership abilities, most who expressed a preference said men are more likely to be effective leaders.

The survey, conducted early this year, found a bonanza of stereotypes among those polled, with many using the optional comment section to label women "moody," "bitchy," "gossipy" and "emotional." The most popular term for woman, used 347 times, was "catty."

Women take care of others and nurture, while men are seen as taking charge and being assertive. The problem is, she says, when we map these attributes onto the workplace the male attributes are much more sought after.

“I call this the lack of fit,” Madeline Heilman explains, because the perceived attributes of women don’t fit the leadership mold. “When women succeed in areas they’re not supposed to they are disapproved of greatly, by everyone, men and women.”

Indeed, our survey found that about 33 percent of men and women would rather work for a man, while about 13 percent would prefer working for a woman. (The remaining 54 percent had no preference.)

And when asked who would be more likely to lead effectively, males were preferred by more than a 2-1 margin by both men and women---even though women got high marks for being problem solvers and providing more supportive work environments.

One thing that I've known about myself for a long time is that I would much prefer to work for a man. I was certainly not raised to think that gender should have a bearing on the workplace, although I don't doubt that there were strong surrounding cultural messages that not everything was equal. That being said, all but one of the best working relationships I have had with a boss have been with men. Not all of them were great leaders or had all of their poop in a pile---but they had a way of working with people that didn't seem as strained as having a woman in that role. And the one Boss Lady I enjoyed? She was a nurturing type. In addition to all of her strong leadership qualities, she was also someone who fostered and sponsored her teachers. I am guilty as charged with "mapping the attributes" of gender roles into the workplace.

I've thought about this a lot this week. Should I try to overcome my stereotypical views---or is it enough to be aware? What does this tell me about my own leadership roles within the district...how gender is influencing perceptions of me...and how to build a style which might positively impact what all of us expect about women on top (so to speak)?

There are some glimmers of hope. About 54 percent of those polled in our survey said they didn’t care if their boss was a man or a woman. And when individuals actually had experience working for a female boss, their preference for a women leader went up slightly. Younger workers 18 to 29 appeared to have a higher preference for female chiefs than those 30 and up, possibly pointing to a generational change.

The survey and article referenced are focused on relationships in the business world and I realize that education is a slightly different animal. It is a profession of women, by and large...one of a few which, up until the last few decades, held acceptable gender roles for women. Females should be well accustomed to working for other females in this area and yet the underlying siren song of culture still reaches our ears. Maybe it's just that change is slow, whether it's the norms of society or my own. If it appears to still be a man's world out there, then perhaps I need to change my lens.


Clix said...

It may be that as women started to enter management, they were trained in male-style management. As women learn to be leaders using their more natural talents, they won't be (or be seen as) "aping their betters."

I find it telling that you recall the female boss you think highly of as "a nurturer."

The Science Goddess said...

It is telling, indeed. I absolutely agree---but it's one of those things I also can't deny. It's part of the reason I felt so successful in my role.

We'll see what the future brings. I hope to grow and stretch a little. :)