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Blowing the whistle on dragon lady bosses: why men prefer male managers and women do too

New research from the Tuck School of Business has shown that 90% of female MBA students prefer a male boss.  A 2009 survey of 2,000 British working women revealed 63% would prefer a male over a female boss.  And a 2008 survey from the University of Toronto highlighted that women working under a sole female supervisor reported more distress and physical stress symptoms than women working under a lone male supervisor.

So what is going on here?  Are all female bosses dragon ladies?  And if everyone prefers working for a male boss, what does this mean for the sphinxx vision of seeing women equally represented in leadership roles?

While it’s one thing for movies like The Devil Wears Prada and The Proposal  to portray women bosses as dragon ladies, do the movies actually mirror your experience?  Is it history that sets the stereotypical gender of a boss as male, or all other things being equal, do women and men actually prefer men as bosses?

When I received an article from Georgina Napier this week with links to the ForbesWomen views on Male Vs. Female Bosses I have to say I was stunned by some of the comments:   “Women have been evil bosses to me in the past”; “A man any day of the week”; “Female bosses are either b*tches or bimbos”.  Wow.

For my part, I’ve had some spectacularly bad bosses who were men.  I’ve had great bosses that are men too, and a couple of wonderful women bosses who remain mentors to me today.  I haven’t had any dragon lady bosses, thank goodness, but I acknowledge that some people have.  I wonder what your experience is – whether you’re male or female – and if there’s anything women who aspire to leadership roles could learn from it.

I’ve been trying to think back to the men and women bosses I’ve had over the years, and whether there where any discernable differences in their management styles.  One thing that strikes me is that most of the women were more efficient and effective – they were really certainly caring, but also very focused on the business outcomes and had a track record in delivery.  Some of the men on the otherhand were more, well, “fun”.  You know, they were lighthearted, they were the first to round up the team and take us to the pub to celebrate our wins, and apart from the odd crisis at work, they appeared otherwise to have not a care in the world which may have made them seem more approachable.  And one big difference is that all of my male bosses had wives who managed their life away from work.  Many of these wives made a full time job of looking after their home and family and, in turn, my boss… so I wonder if that played a part in how these boss blokes were perceived. And whether the fact that my female bosses didn’t have a “wife” made them – out of necessity – that bit more task oriented.

It’s just a sneaking suspicion… and I could be wrong… but I know in my case it’s the stuff away from work that very much drives how my colleagues and staff perceive me.  When the pressure is on away from work, it crosses over to my work life as well.  But maybe that’s just me… 

If you’re a woman reading this blog, I’d love you to not only share your views, but also to forward it on to your male colleagues and bosses for their opinion.  And blokes: truly, we’re up for it.  Tell us what you think it will take to improve perceptions of women at the top and get involved in the discussion. I’d love to hear from you all on this very important issue.


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