New Study: Do Men Make Better Bosses?

Last Updated Oct 25, 2011 7:26 AM EDT

A new study surveyed 142 legal secretaries, asking them who they would rather work for: A male partner, a female partner, a female associate or a male associate. Not one of the 142 had a preference for a female partner.

Small study and almost half (47 percent) said they had no preference. But, you would expect that at least some of the respondents would say they preferred to work for female partners. (3 percent said they would prefer to work for a female associate.)

Why? Are women monsters to work for? Are men better bosses? Are men more powerful and therefore, if you've got to have a boss you'll go for the one with more power? (Just a side note from someone who was responsible for salary increases--guidelines are just guidelines and the more power your boss has the more likely your raise will be higher than someone else's raise--if you're a valued employee.)

Or, this much ado about nothing? 47 percent said they didn't care. I suspect if the choices had included partner (either gender) or associate (either gender) these 47 percent may have had a preference. (There are advantages and disadvantages to working for someone high up or low down the totem pole. Different responsibilities, etc.)

Last year, my former BNET Colleague, Geoffrey James, ran an informal survey asking readers to share if they would rather work for a male or female boss. The survey results are below. (These look a little different than the link because the survey tool used didn't display the data in the correct fashion. Looks like the survey tool needs a little Stats 101 help.)
Would you rather work for a male or female boss?
  • 69% of men prefer to work for men
  • 76% of women prefer to work for men
  • 31% of men prefer to work for women
  • 24% of women prefer to work for women
Geoffrey didn't offer a "no preference" option so we only know that these numbers apply to people who
  1. Read this article
  2. Felt inclined to vote and
  3. Had a preference of gender
In other words, not scientific at all. Still, the more scientifically based legal secretary study certainly doesn't contradict it. Among people with preferences, male bosses are preferred.

Why? The Legal Secretaries gave these reasons:
  • Females are harder on their female assistants, more detail oriented, and they have to try harder to prove themselves, so they put that on you. And they are passive aggressive where a guy will just tell you the task and not get emotionally involved and make it personal.
  • I just feel that men are a little more flexible and less emotional than women. This could be because the female partners feel more pressure to perform.
  • Female attorneys have a tendency to downgrade a legal secretary.
  • I am a female legal secretary, but I avoid working for women because [they are] such a pain in the ass! They are too emotional and demeaning.
  • Female attorneys are either mean because they're trying to be like their male counterparts or too nice/too emotional because they can't handle the stress. Either way, their attitude/lack of maturity somehow involves you being a punching bag.
  • Women lawyers have "an air about them."
Geoffrey James' commenters gave these responses:
  • Regretfully for the most part of my career I have had female bosses but not great mentors/coaches/leaders. More specifically most of the males I have worked for have been great mentors/leaders empowering me to make my own decisions as often as possible for stretch and growth.
  • I'm a man, FYI. I've worked for 2 women and 3 men in my career. The women were quite different, one older and Harvard-educated, the other very young and state-school educated. Both let their emotions get the best of them far too easily and had no strategic focus. They were like Labrador Retrievers chasing the brightest ball thrown this week.
  • I'm a woman who prefers male bosses. (I had others report to me, yet I still feel this way.) Women tend to take things personally, (whether it is criticism, or the fact that underlings are not performing.) And emotions tend to interfere with the work environment. We're just wired differently, to be nurturing, (sometimes too much so) and we have to remember we are dealing with adults in the workplace.
  • Looking back at previous jobs, I'd have to say that the majority of my male bosses didn't stack up to my female bosses. Of course, if I ranked all the individuals, there would be some men higher than some women...but if I ranked them and split the list in half, the upper half would have a higher percentage of females and the lower half would have a higher percentage of males.
Do your experiences jive with those listed above? In my HR career I only had one male direct supervisor--all my other direct bosses were female. And my male boss was fabulous and I learned a lot, and I would, without hesitation, work for all of my female bosses except for one again. So, my experiences with female bosses have been good. Do you have a preference? Or a good explanation as to why others have preferences?

For further reading:
Photo by ShashiBellamkonda, Women Grow Business Boot Camp, Flickr cc 2.0

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