Did you know that April 10 was Equal Pay Day? I had actually never heard of it until recently. It is the day that marks how far into 2018 a woman will have to work to earn what her male colleagues earned in 2017.
It shocks me that, in the year 2018, we are still having conversations about equal pay and gender discrimination. In an era where female leadership roles are commonplace, why are we still talking about workplace equality? How can we have come so far, yet the gap still seems so wide?
In relation, something I believe should also be discussed is the stigma around the female boss.
Unfortunately, in many conversations with both women and men, the one factor that seems to arise most often is how difficult female bosses can sometimes be. There have been plenty of rave reviews, but more often than not, a female boss seems to be frowned upon. Why is this? Where does this stigma come from?
When the thought of this article came to me, I asked my social network of friends to share some thoughts and experiences they have had with female bosses. I had my own history with female leadership, some good and some not, but I wanted a broader opinion.
The common theme that arose was most people had both a female boss they enjoyed working with, and sometimes even one that helped shape their career. However, they also had female authority that was “horrible beyond words.” This is the case in my own experience as well.
When I first started working, right out of college, in early 2000, I was pursuing a career in finance and had landed myself right on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It was thrilling and scary all at the same time.
In my college days, while studying finance, I envisioned myself a big boss one day, sitting behind a fancy desk, running the show. However, once I made it to Wall Street, it was hard to keep that vision alive.
I was surrounded by men and I was definitely not part of the “boys club” that existed on the exchange at the time. I will say though, the male bosses I had during this time were all easy-going jokesters. They were willing to teach me the ropes and mentor me, all the while smiling and laughing. I enjoyed this time immensely, but soon realized it wasn’t for me.
Fast forward two years, I found myself in public relations working with the best female boss in the business. I was so excited to be working with a woman and once again visions of leadership danced in my head.
I had hopes of this woman taking me under her wing, showing me all she knew and climbing the ranks with her by my side. That dream was cut short after day one. She was the most belittling, hot-headed, demanding person I had ever worked for. She took every opportunity to make me feel small and stupid. Most nights, I went home crying over something horrible she had said to me. It was the worst experience of my career.
As I sit here today, having left the corporate world behind for a career in education, I can look back fondly on some female bosses. Some, whose words of wisdom still ring clear in my mind, but others with such power hungry irrationality that they left a dark cloud over the idea of the female boss.
Yet, the question still remains… why do some women in power feel like they have to be rough and tough? Here are some perspectives I received:
“I [once] worked for a female chef, everyone hated her, including me, but…we worked very close and I had to get to know her. One day, she explained that running an all-male kitchen was what made her so tough and the only way she could make the grown men that worked for her respect her was to be [nasty] all the time. Turns out, she’s not all bad, just a product of her environment. I caught up with her years later while running another kitchen and she was way friendlier with that staff who respected her despite her gender. Years after that, I managed a restaurant [with] an all-male staff and found myself in a similar situation. It isn’t easy having to prove your worth every day, with any error made as proof that your gender can’t perform as well as the other… and you’re hardly obeyed… I [just] had to do what was needed to get the job done right.”
“I definitely feel I have to act differently than male bosses and I hate that! Men are allowed to be firm, even angry or disappointed in the workplace. Women are not. We are then labeled as emotional. Men are fierce and leaders if they are firm. It’s a major double standard. I also feel that there are two types of women in the workplaces, to oversimplify of course, those that support other women and love female bosses and those that dislike female bosses because they too are threatened by an Alpha Female. It’s extremely exhausting to have to try and do your best as a female boss while also having to worry about how to adjust yourself so you are fairly evaluated.”
Is this the issue—are women in the workplace a “product of their environment?” Do we feel the need to constantly prove ourselves, therefore taking on this rough persona so we can justify our position and worth?
What if we place these female bosses in an all-female environment? Perhaps, a company that is owned by women and for the most part, run by women. Would the dynamic change?
I sought feedback from a woman working in just this type of environment. While her past experiences had her agreeing with the notion that female bosses are in constant need to prove themselves, she says it is different at her current company.
“[Maybe it’s because] the owner has a bigger end goal, which goes beyond making a great product, [she strives] to empower women, [but I definitely] feel much more valued and actually get time to enjoy the functions of my job. It’s also fun here, mixing work with a fun environment. My boss, who just left, was awesome! [She was] reasonable, wasn’t afraid of hard work and valued my experience as a designer.”
So, maybe it is the environment, or staff, or possibly the field of work, but one thing that prevails all is the fact that female bosses are here to stay.
Every person I communicated with has had an experience with female leadership, whether it was positive or negative. The notion of women in power is no longer a dream, it’s a very common reality, and for that, we should be proud.
If you’ve read my previous articles, you know that I am a huge advocate of women supporting and uplifting each other. I feel that we have an obligation to our “foresisters” to keep our gender moving upward and onward.
Women have come so far, we can’t let our own jealousy or intimidation get in the way.
When I see a woman in power, it gives me such a feeling of pride, whether I know that person or not. It gives me great hope for my daughters when they see that women can do and be anything they set their minds to.
I just hope that in their time, they will see the gap close… the pay gap, the discrimination gap. I hope they never see the need to constantly prove themselves in the face of their male counterparts. I hope that when they find their niche in the world, they are able to live that dream purely, without discrimination or stigma.