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Male Bosses Are Still More Popular

Vivia Chen

November 20, 2013

                 Is she too scary?                                        Is he just more fun?

To all you she-bosses out there: Sit down, and pour yourself a stiff one. I hate to break this to you but the just released Gallup poll shows that a lot of people (male and female) would rather work for a male buffoon than you. That's right, it looks like that crack-smoking, foul-mouthed, unruly mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, would trounce Hillary Rodham Clinton in the boss popularity contest.

Okay, that might be an exaggeration. But the bottom line is this: Americans prefer male bosses over female ones by a healthy margin—35 to 23 percent.

Here are some other key points in the Gallup survey:

- Both sexes prefer a male boss. "More than half of men say the gender of their boss makes no difference, but those who have a preference favor a male boss by an 11-point margin. Women are more likely than men to have a preference. . .[And] women choose a male over a female boss by a 13-point margin.

- The youngest workers (ages 18 to 34) and the oldest (55 and older) prefer male bosses. Curiously, those between the ages of 35 to 54 are the least likely to prefer a male boss.

- Political affiliation matters. Democrats are evenly divided, "while independents and Republicans prefer a male boss."

- Education level doesn't matter. "Americans of all education levels prefer a male boss, by margins ranging from seven to 14 percentage points."

Are you depressed yet? Well, this won't help. According to Gallup:

Although four in 10 Americans do not have a preference for a male or a female boss, those who do would rather work for a man than a woman—as they have since Gallup began asking this question in 1953.

What I find surprising and discouraging is that those in the 18 to 34 age group are just as chauvinistic about female bosses as those in the oldest group (55 and older). What happened to all that progressive, gender equality stuff these young'ns grew up with? Are they no more enlightened than those of us who were forced to take homemaking classes in eighth grade?

Not to despair totally, there is some progress:

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 who would prefer a male boss. Americans are also significantly more likely today than in 1953 to volunteer that they do not have a preference.

The 23% of Americans who would opt to work for a woman is the highest in the history of Gallup's asking this question since 1953, although it is essentially the same as in several previous surveys.

So there is progress—it's just moving slowly. Very slowly. Another promising finding in the survey is that those who "currently work for a woman are as likely to prefer having a female boss as a male one." By the same token, "those who currently work for a man prefer a male boss, by 35 percent to 17 percent."

In other words, we tend to prefer what we've been exposed to. And since women in management positions are still relatively rare, people tend to fear the unknown. Presumably, over time, when female bosses are more prevalent, this gender preference will disappear.

But that might be too logical. What the survey doesn't address is why women are dreaded as bosses in the first place. That question opens a whole Pandora's Box about our ambivalence towards women in power.  (You can be sure I'll be diving into that mess in the near future.)

In the meantime, tell me what you think. Do associates in law firms still prefer working for male partners? Or are we way beyond that in the legal profession?

Related Posts: Female Partners Still Unloved; Female Employee Bites Female Boss.

 E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist


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Have you even considered the possibility that women and men of all age groups prefer male bosses, not because our entire society hates women, but just maybe because women in positions of power tend to be less enjoyable to work for than men? I have a strong suspicion that if the polls showed that Americans preferred female bosses, you'd be talking about all the intrinsic qualities that make women better bosses. But when the polls point the other way, the only possible explanation is widespread male chauvinism and female self-loathing.

Over a 30-year working career, I had three woman bosses at various times, and each of them was awful. All were micro-managers, one was stupid, and the other two were quite smart but abusive, vicious, brown-nosers. You know the type - yell at the staff, suck up to the higher ups. Can I generalize from that? Well, I would never work for another woman boss, no matter how good the pay is.

It's not only about the genders of bosses to which we have been exposed, it's about the management styles of those bosses. To oversimplify a very nuanced issue, I have often found that women who have made it to managerial positions have had to work harder to do so, and it shows in their style. Men in positions of power can be more laid-back, understanding, flexible, etc. because they have fewer people second-guessing and critiquing their decisions. Women don't always have that luxury.

We really are not there yet...not by a long shot...ideally, it would be GREAT in our progressive (chuckle) society for men and women to want to work for either gender...and feel comfortable about the pay received, pay raises,etc.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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