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Why do we love to hate a female boss?

The boss I disliked the most was a woman.

I like to think that my track record with management has been quite good, but this woman crept under my skin and inspired a dislike that scared me a little because it was so near hatred.

There were times when she irritated me so much, I could hardly look her in the face. The day she left, I went around the office humming Ding Dong The Witch Is Gone. Another woman disappeared into the toilets for half an hour that day so she wouldn't have to wish her luck. I just about managed that one. Awkwardly. I wasn't alone but it was noticeable that the people who disliked her were all women.

Backstabbing

Why the collective dislike? There were quite a few reasons, including the constant criticism of our work while never giving any support and the habit she had of doing very little when we all routinely worked 10-hour days.

But the one thing which really annoyed me was that she only handed out criticism to women. The men in the office were constantly told that they had done a good job. You could practically feel the waves of resentment which radiated towards her from the women.

It was as though the worst female stereotypes of bitchiness and backstabbing were brought out in all of us.

I was reminded of this when I read of a report by psychologists at the University of Cincinnati. The study found that men who had female bosses got far more mentoring and support then their female colleagues. Researchers concluded this may be partly because women in senior positions want to blend in as much as possible with their male counterparts. The female bosses were also reluctant to promote female workers.

The researchers named it 'Queen Bee Syndrome.' Last year, Ella LJ Edmondson Bell, an associate professor at the Tuck School of Business, wrote in the Huffington Post about a survey she did among her students, asking them whether they would prefer a male or female manager. Some 90pc of the women said they would prefer a male.

Even though I had a nasty experience working for a female boss, I was surprised by the findings. In my own experience, the majority of people who gave me jobs in the first place were women. Is it that we judge other women more harshly than men? I refuse to accept that all women are bad managers because I know it is not true. But could it be true to say that female bosses are tougher than men?

A 2008 study by the University of Toronto found that women working under a single female boss presented more physical stress then women working under a single male boss. The bosses who have pushed me the most have been female. I've looked back and thanked them for it because it made me better at my job but, at the time, it could be quite stressful.

The kind of female boss described in the Queen Bee study -- one who refuses to promote other women -- screams insecurity to me. And who can blame them for being insecure? We're not exactly female friendly in our work culture. So rather than saying that men are naturally better managers, it may be fairer to say that women are not in an environment that supports them to be the best they can be.

Women can be fantastic at cheering each other on. In my own area of journalism, a debate opened up some months ago about the lack of female voices on air. Wearing my radio producer hat, I pointed out a variety of reasons for this, one of them being that a lot of women don't have the confidence to go on air.

It was businesswoman Margaret E Ward who took the initiative and decided to host an information evening with speakers from the world of radio and television who could advise women on how they could get on air, what would be expected of them and what they should expect.

Brilliant

Something that started as a one-off meeting has turned into a regular group, Women On Air. Every month or so, this group of more than 60 women from all backgrounds meet up.

The speakers are great (the last two were Orla Barry, presenter of The Green Room on Newstalk and Alice O'Sullivan, producer of Ryan Tubridy's 2FM radio show) but what really makes the group so successful is the women themselves.

They are fantastically supportive of each other and any time one of them takes to the airwaves, the rest are sending them messages of encouragement.

Forums like this are brilliant and we should have more of them. I hope Women On Air succeed in getting their voices heard because it might go some way towards making women feel that it's okay to be the boss, get comfortable with it and, ultimately, rock it.


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