Only 23% of Americans Prefer a Female Boss

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Women are taking their place in the C-suite, and more Americans than ever are glad they are. A new Gallup poll says if Americans were taking a new job and had their choice, they would still prefer a male boss. But nearly one-quarter (23%) said they would choose to work for a woman, and that's the highest percentage since the survey began in 1953.

Interestingly, more than half of men (51%) said they had no preference.

Gallup says the proportion of Americans who prefer a female boss has increased by 18 percentage points over the past six decades, while there has been a 31-point decline in the percentage preferring a male boss.

Women exhibit emotional intelligence

Cheryl Eaton, a management professor at Marlboro College Graduate School in Marlboro, Vt., as well as the founder of Wild Genius, a branding and innovation group, believes the trend represents a positive change for the American workplace.

"Women are more likely to exhibit emotional intelligence in the work place and so are more likely to support the whole human as managers," Eaton says. "They are more apt to be human themselves -- show their emotions and their vulnerabilities, making them more approachable as managers. Women are more likely to collaborate themselves, and create a collaborative culture; reducing competition and making the workplace feel more safe."

There is an increasing demand for female executives, according to Kim Shepherd, CEO of Decision Toolbox, a recruiting firm based in Irvine, Calif.

"I have been seeing a softening trend in leadership in the workplace," she said. "More and more hiring managers have been slyly requesting managers 'in touch with their feminine side.' Leaders who can provide vision that comes from their hearts as well as their heads are coming into fashion."

And Shepherd believes there are even more reasons for the expanding trend.

"Women seem more apt at multitasking and bring a maternal element to their managerial role. With the emergence of social media, the workplace is becoming a more social place," Shepherd said. "Work-life balance is now a demand rather than a wish and female bosses are quicker to understand this dynamic."

The results are "rather alarming"

But Stacy Janicki, director of account management for Carmichael Lynch, an advertising agency based in Minneapolis, believes the results are "rather alarming," considering that more people would still rather work for a male boss.

"The current numbers may speak purely to what employees are conditioned to expect or what they've had the most exposure to," Janicki said. "While females are now evenly represented in the workforce overall, women are still under-represented on a leadership level."

"Employees often have many bosses over the course of their careers -- some good, some bad," she adds. "It is safe to assume they've had a disproportionate number of male bosses. If they've had less frequent exposure to female managers then, when a female boss fails to meet expectations, workers may make sweeping assumptions, based on gender, instead of just responding to that particular individual. With men, workers have enough experiences to form a bell curve of expectations against which male bosses are measured."

It shouldn't be about X and Y chromosomes

While Americans are more accepting than ever of a female boss, one quirk remains. If given a choice, the Gallup poll indicates that far more women (40%) would prefer to work for a man.

"My guess is that women have had less exposure to female bosses," said Janicki. "They could be conditioned to respond in a default manner, because it's purely what they are most accustomed to. I also fear that stereotypes still exist. Strong leadership traits present in men are often viewed differently than when women exhibit them. We are still fighting the stereotype battle."

But Janicki says the critical factor that should be considered is simply leadership.

"Male or female, I strongly believe employees are seeking universal character traits, not X and Y chromosomes," she said. "They seek out managers that guide their career growth and offer constructive and frequent feedback while demonstrating empathy and integrity."

Men are cannibalistic

"An encouraging reality among women business owners is that they generally tend to support each other, embracing one another's success," says Michelle Benjamin, CEO and founder of workforce solutions company Benjamin Enterprises and talent consultancy TalentReady. "Women are competitive, decisive and hard driving, too, but tend not to be as cannibalistic as men. The female mindset is tempered to be more supportive, nurturing and encouraging of others."

As a result, men find women business owners to be clear, concise communicators, more realistic to the needs of the work team and sensitive to the balance necessary between work and personal life.

What used to work against women in the workplace is now working for them, says Inga Carboni, an assistant professor of organizational behavior for the Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.

"Women are usually assumed to be nurturing and relationship-focused, and men to be agentic and achievement-focused," Carboni said.

"These gender role expectations used to work against female leaders. Women still sometimes suffer backlash when they violate gender role expectations by, for example, asserting their opinions, but workers today – especially the highly engaged Millennials -- are increasingly demanding nurturing leaders. They want feedback, support, encouragement and empowerment. They want to feel connected to someone and to something greater than themselves."

 

Carboni believes effective leaders should build strong relationships that help workers further their personal and societal goals.

"In today's flatter, more connected and more mobile workplace, relationships and relationship-building differentiate those who are merely managers from those who lead," she said. "So, perhaps the old stereotype of woman-as-nurturer is starting to look a lot more like woman-as-leader."

Battling gender stereotypes

Among working Americans, the Gallup poll reports 54% of those surveyed said they currently work for a man, while 30% work for a woman.

As those numbers reach parity, the percentage of workers favoring a male boss may also be affected.

"The longer term trend of more workers preferring a female boss is most likely related to workers now getting used to having a female boss," says Anne York, associate professor in the Meredith College School of Business, and an expert regarding gender equality in the workplace. "Most of the mid-career professionals today were born in the 1970s so they have always lived in a world in which women's equality in the workplace was expected."

Yet the larger percentage of workers who still prefer a male boss may show that there is still a long way to go in viewing men and women as equal in managerial roles.

"The trend I am most interested in is the percent who say they have no gender preference," York said. "That percentage has unfortunately been getting smaller recently. I am hopeful that we as a society will eventually get to a point where 100% of the workers have no preference because they view their bosses as individuals and not with a gender stereotype."

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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