Looking out of your office window and wondering whether you’d be better off junking it all in and making a break for a deserted island somewhere? You’re not alone. New research has shown that female managers are less likely to have job satisfaction than their male colleagues. But when you look at the evidence why, it’s hardly surprising.
Dr Daniela Lupp tracked the careers and career satisfaction of 13,000 UK employees who were promoted to managers. She found that, overall, men were more likely to show higher levels of career satisfaction once they’d been promoted than women were. According to the study, the reason for this discrepancy, says Lupp, is the low-level, unconscious discrimination that female managers still face.
The stereotype of the female ballbreaker, pulling the ladder up behind her and not giving anyone else in her team a chance, should have died out by now. Research shows that those being managed by women are actually more likely to feel that there is someone at work who encourages their career, have had a recent discussion about their development and have received some form of praise or constructive feedback in the past seven days. All of these things mean that employees with a female manager are happier and more engaged. Yet, despite this, more of us would rather work for a man than a woman.
A 2012 Gallup poll showed that while 46 per cent of employees have no preference when it comes to their manager’s gender, 33 per cent would prefer to be managed by a man and 20 per cent a woman. The good news is that this is the same survey that, in the 1960s, showed just five per cent of employees thought a female boss could be good for them, so at least it’s not quite Mad Men still. The bad news is that this small but significant group, who still think genitalia is somehow linked to management ability, are subtly undermining women’s place at the top.
This small but significant group, who still think genitalia is somehow linked to management ability, are subtly undermining women’s place at the top
In part, this has to come down to expectation. Despite saying that boys and girls are equally capable of achieving anything they want to, when we look at who runs the boardrooms of British business, it’s still predominantly white men. Women are still more likely to be the primary caregiver and are judged on that, while we still tell men that their value is based on their economic success. This creates a perfect storm of expectation and privilege.
When looking at why men sexually harassed women on the street in four Middle East regions, Promundo – an international research group – found that quite often the harassment came from men who felt powerless and wanted to exert some level of control over someone else. They have, as Gary Barker, president of Promundo US, put it to NPR, “high expectations of themselves and aren’t able to meet them. So they [harass women] to put them in their place”. Could the same be happening in offices across the UK?
We’ve all been in the position of being overlooked for a job that we think we should have got, but for young men who see older versions of themselves in positions of power and feel more pressure to achieve economically in order to prove themselves, being overlooked for a woman can feel like a double blow. Not only are they missing out on a job they wanted, but for the first time they’re also experiencing the loss of the white male privilege that has, until now, been on their side.
One of the women I coach experienced exactly this problem with a new recruit in her team. Despite repeated warnings about his performance from everyone he worked with, he still felt his contribution wasn’t being recognised and that he could do his female manager’s job. This led to a subtle campaign against her – he’d leave work set by her unfinished, challenge her in front of her bosses and tried to pass of her work as his. It eventually ended in disciplinary action and him leaving the company after he made a “time of the month” joke about her to her (male) boss. Yes, he ended up without a job, but if she’d worked in a less supportive company, it could have very easily been the other way around.
Of course, we also know that it’s not just men who turn against female managers – women are just as likely to do it, too. In January of this year, research from Massey University showed that women expect a higher level of emotional support from a female boss than a male one. If the woman in charge fails to meet these expectations, then we hold it against them. In contrast, we expect less support from men, so anything they give is a bonus and regarded more highly.
Add all this together and it’s no surprise then that female managers feel like a seat at the table might not be all Sheryl Sandberg made it out to be. Of course, the level of dissatisfaction for women at the top might have another cause, too. As one female CEO I know said: “The higher up the ladder you go, the greater the amount of bullshit you have to put up with.”
And, really, who can be bothered with that?