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When women manage women

publication date: Mar 5, 2013
author/source: Janet Gadeski

“Anne” is a smart, high-performing, ambitious woman building a career in the nonprofit sector. She has plenty of female company. Of every four nonprofit workers, three were female in 2007-08 according to a survey from the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector. It’s likely, therefore, that Anne will find herself managing other women before too long.Janet Gadeski photo

When Anne attains her first supervisory role, though, she’ll land in a web of conflicting expectations, according to blogger Karen Firestone. Writing for the HBR Blog Network, Firestone presents research showing that women react to their managers differently and evaluate them differently depending on the managers’ gender.

Biases are slow to change

Those biases are changing very slowly. Firestone notes research done nearly 20 years ago that suggested women expected “empathy, support, sensitivity and self-disclosure” from female bosses (but not from males). They did not give female bosses much credit for traits usually associated with male leaders such as persuasiveness, analytical ability, and action orientation.

Outdated? Not really. Firestone also cites studies done as recently as 2008 that yielded the same results.

Nan Mooney agrees. In her 2006 Inc. article, Women Managing Women, Mooney identifies the “boss or buddy” decision as the first challenge a female manager faces with female staff. Women know what other women expect of them, she explains, and are particularly wary of being seen as too tough or power-hungry in the eyes of other women.

Despite that, she advises, Anne’s job as a leader is to call the shots. “If employees see you as their best buddy, it can be confusing when you start telling them what to do or calling them on their mistakes,” she explains. “Try envisioning yourself as a leader who is respected by her employees rather than seeking unconditional love.”

This article is taken from a longer discussion in the February issue of Gift Planning in Canada. In it, readers learned what happens when Anne takes a position in a larger organization where she will likely manage both men and women, report to a male herself, and, if she becomes CEO, report to a board that is more male than female.  Subscribe NOW or download a sample copy

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