Global Leadership Blog

Gender Cooperation Workshops

Do You Want a Male or Female Boss – and Why?

If you’ve ever checked out Gallup’s annual work and education poll, you know it always contains some fascinating statistics on how we really feel about our careers and employers. The 2014 study caught my eye, though, for one particular reason – the data illuminates the American preference for a male boss.

Here’s where we stand overall. 46 percent of Americans don’t care whether their boss is a man or a woman. Yet 33 percent prefer male bosses – and 20 percent prefer female bosses.

To drill into these preferences a little deeper, here are more results:

Men are more flexible than women on the matter; 58 percent of men have no preference, compared to 34 percent of women.
39 percent of women and 26 percent of men prefer a male boss.
Women are also more likely to prefer female bosses at 25 percent, compared with 14 percent of men.

For the record, this is quite a change from the 1953 Gallup poll. Back then, 66 percent of Americans said they preferred a male boss. (That gives you some idea of the challenges facing women leaders back in the 1950’s. Can you imagine managing a team where the majority of your staff preferred to report to a man instead?)

That 66 percent has been cut in half in today’s poll – but female bosses still need to deal with the fact that a third of the workforce may not want to report to them. Male bosses face the same reality with a fifth of the workforce. So it’s worth asking: what are the repercussions of these gender preferences, for both employees and managers?

Broadening Your Perspective as an Employee

If you have a specific gender preference for your ideal boss, you might be basing it on past experiences. Or you may simply feel you have a better rapport with a certain gender. Here’s my suggestion: make sure that your preference isn’t limiting your professional opportunities. Many people come into the workplace with certain assumptions about working with different age groups or cultures, only to discover those assumptions are dead wrong. If you’re avoiding a certain position because of the boss’s gender, put your expectations to the side and act on the opportunity.

My next piece of advice: let go of gender stereotypes. All too often, a male boss who criticizes staff can be seen as a stern taskmaster, pushing employees to do their best, while a female boss who does the same can be seen as irrational and shrill. Or an employee might expect a woman boss to be more understanding than a male boss about missing a meeting to care for a sick child. These biases can damage both your relationship with your boss and ultimately your career.

A more productive option: using neutral evaluation criteria to make sure you’re judging your boss fairly. Look at their management style and ask how you would perceive the same actions coming from the opposite gender. When you’re considering a new position, don’t worry about the gender of your potential boss. Instead, look at their track record in the company and consider factors such as the employees they’ve promoted. That history will help you understand their leadership style far more than their gender.

Coping With Gender Preferences as a Leader

If you’re a manager, you already know that figuring out staff issues can be a guessing game. You won’t necessarily know when a staff member expects you to be catty simply because you’re a woman, or thinks you’re weak for showing emotion as a male leader. Can you expect your team to admit these biases and preferences? Probably not – but you can deal with them proactively.

For instance, if you’re a man, mention the women you’ve mentored and promoted in the company. If you’re a woman, cultivate a rich network of male and female contacts and foster a positive reputation as a leader who’s objective and fair. Even LinkedIn testimonials can go far in helping potential employees see you as a boss they’d love to work for. Gender stereotypes may not be fair in the workplace, but with anticipation and some savvy reputation management, you can dismantle them before they have a chance to hurt your relationships.

In case you’re wondering, 51 percent of working Americans currently have a male boss while 33 percent have a female boss. Interestingly, 27 percent of those with a female boss say they would prefer a female boss if they got a new job, where only 15 percent of those with a male boss say the same. That tells us that the reality of having a female boss is more enjoyable than the stereotype – and that as more women attain leadership positions, gender preferences in the workplace could even out or disappear altogether.

Call me to host a speaking engagement or course on Gender Cooperation. See our programs in Creating a Gender Powerhouse here: GENDERCOOP

Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication.
More About Melissa Lamson