Women’s History Month – The Rise of the Boss Lady



But Do We Like Her?

From Diana Christensen (Network, 1976) and Katharine Parker (Working Girl, 1988) to Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada, 2006) and M (James Bond, 1995-2012), the female boss has been portrayed in the movies as immoral, back-stabbing, fire-breathing and unfeeling, to the point of being unflinchingly prepared to send even her most prized employee to his death without a backward glance. (Although in the case of M, we might be prepared to forgive her.)

To hear various complaints about how irrational, cliquish, emotional, jealous, gossipy and paranoid some women-in-charge behave, we might conclude that the majority of female managers resemble these celluloid psychopaths!

I found dismaying a recent LinkedIn forum in which the moderator asked participants to provide their opinions on women versus men in management. The vast majority – 64% — of the international cross-section of mainly female executive and personal assistants — most of whom said they had worked for both genders — responded that they would rather work for a man. Only 4% said they would prefer to work for a woman, with 32% had no preference.

But what about those feminine traits of sensitivity, nurturing, empathy, caring, nesting, thoughtfulness, compassion and inclusiveness. Are those traits compromised when a women becomes a manager? Do they clash with getting the job done? Do they fall away when a woman reaches a point where she has to work three times harder than a man to prove her worth, while stretched to the breaking point because she also has to take on twice the housework as her spouse and also assume responsibility for the care of the kids?

Or do we really just have mean girls in the corner office?

Since I entered the workforce in the 1960s I noticed that female managers marched to the beat of a different drummer. And, because men have always set the rules to accommodate themselves, women in the workplace have been akin to round pegs fitting into square holes.

Historically, it was always came as a shock to report to a woman. I laughed whenever I heard men complain, but was puzzled when women did; after all, didn’t we speak the same language?

I reported to my first female manager in the mid-70s. She was terrific, and a refreshing and exciting change from my previous managers (which included only one who was worth his salt). That reporting relationship lasted only one year due to a reorganization. It was twenty years before I reported to another female manager, and for the next 16 years I reported to a succession of women who open doors for me that led to my becoming a female manager! Thus, if you ask me if I prefer working for a woman or a man…

Because of my positive experiences working for women, I was stunned and dismayed at the number of negative comments in the LinkedIn forum. While this would be considered more of a straw poll than a scientifically conducted survey, the overwhelming results and negative comments about female managers cannot be ignored.

What could be the cause for such feelings about women who have worked so hard to break down barriers and forge the way for other women to follow? Why would a female manager not help other women get a toe-hold on the corporate ladder? Conversely, why would a woman not want to see her female boss succeed, giving women as a group another crack at that glass ceiling?

The Media and the Perception

Through the years the media have had a love/hate relationship with women in business. And, as women have ascended to the ranks of management, the stakes have become higher. Should society, which includes both men and women, hold the ladder steady so more women can rise, or should it kick the ladder away as women reach the top?

Back in the bad old days of Mad Men, men were of one mind on women in business; they didn’t want us there! And, even many women, mostly those who might have felt left out of the Women’s Movement begun in the 1960s, were conflicted on the topic. Women who thought that gaining access to the “Boys Only” club would be heaven have gone through hell to hang onto their membership let alone get to be president. Consequently, many women have questioned whether it’s worth it to continue the fight on the corporate turf or leave and either start their own businesses or return to the only role that many feel they belong.

The media continue to be conflicted, on the one hand calling female bosses Queen Bees, and on the other declaring that women make better bosses. Many men have become accepting of women in business, but still are uncomfortable with women taking the lead. A woman needs both the support of her senior managers and company directors as well as the respect and support of her staff. Otherwise, she cannot hope to punch out the glass in that ceiling; and once it’s shattered she has to ensure that no one quietly replaces it when she’s not looking. So, what should a woman do when she becomes the boss lady?

Ten Steps to Being the Great Boss Lady You Were Meant To Be

  1. Nurture your network of other powerful women and men. Start or join an affinity group for women. It’s lonely at the top, so now is not the time to isolate yourself.
  2. Be an ambassador and role model for women in business. Be the boss to which you want to report!
  3. Support and help other women up the ladder; at the very least, be fair.
  4. Create a positive work environment; build loyalty among your staff and gain their respect. Let them talk, and listen to them.
  5. Choose your secretary or assistant carefully; she or he is the one who will have your back represent you to your staff, senior management, clients and the rest of the world. Make sure you have your assistant’s back in return.
  6. Take a good leadership course and focus on your communications and negotiations skills. Develop your prowess in business etiquette and protocol..
  7. Present a powerful but attractive appearance; you’re not the devil so don’t be afraid to wear Prada.
  8. If you were a mean girl in school (or wanted to be) and still are, immediately stop or get help.
  9. Refine your brand; and carry it through to all areas of your professional life.
  10. Be demanding; you have a job to do; but, be reasonable and understanding, as well.

Whether you are a student, young professional, seasoned executive assistant or a new CEO, it appears that a seismic shift is on the horizon for women in the workplace. Boss ladies are likely to be the new normal in the future. Now is your chance to make that future bright for all.

Until next week,


2 thoughts on “Women’s History Month – The Rise of the Boss Lady

  1. Ruby Stubson says:

    I've had both good and bad experiences with female managers. I've had some who were fantastic; they nurtured, but maintained focus; they were business-savvy and prioritized well; they would praise, but not too much. I've had some bad ones; they would disrespect me and my degree; they wouldn't or couldn't prioritize well; they didn't offer any praise for a job well done (or offered too much). But I've also had the same experience with male managers. I have never seen any particular drawback which is specific to one gender or the other. In my mind, if you're a good manager, then that's the end of it; management skills aren't attributable to gender, so we shouldn't treat or judge female managers any different than male managers. And of course, the same goes for the employees. Every employee should be judged based on merit, not on gender. That's how I do it, and that's how I expect everyone else do to it.


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