The ‘Mean Girl’ Syndrome: Are Women Really Harder To Work With?

May 31, 2013  |  

Branding and marketing specialist Theresa O’Neal, of Bee Season Consulting, also says women bosses fear appearing vulnerable. “As women in the workforce, we are sometimes concerned about displaying our vulnerabilities for fear that we may not be seen as capable as our male counterparts. If subordinates fail, we are also seen as failing.  Unfortunately, we are not allowed to pass the buck or ‘dumb out’ like some (not all!) of our male counterparts do,” she adds. That insecurity can breed actions and behavior that make women seem like bad bosses, adds Davis-DeFoe.

Black female bosses on the other hand are often perceived as better bosses. Researchers from Duke’s and Northwestern’s business schools found that while employees the “disliked aggressive woman” notion, it doesn’t apply when the women are black, reports TheJaneDough.com. “When most people think of ‘race,’ they think of a black male. When most people think of ‘women,’ they think a white female. Because black women essentially fly under both of those radars, they’re examined differently with the notion that they’re practically impervious to negative evaluations,” writes the site. But when black women are working for other black women, the similar complaints about women bosses crop up again. One is that black female bosses tend to overcompensate by being tougher.

Climbing the corporate ladder to the top is difficult in general but magnified for women. The Glass Hammer recently asked “Hard Questions: Why won’t we work for women?” And it discovered various answers.

“A gender schema is an unconscious cultural assumption we hold about men and women. One schema is that women are first assumed incompetent and therefore not leaders, whereas for men it’s the opposite – that they are first assumed competent until proven otherwise,”  Dr. Birute Regine, a developmental psychologist and author of Iron Butterflies: Women Transforming Themselves and the World, told the site.

Stress management expert Debbie Mandel told Glass Hammer there is another her reason why women prefer to work for men. “Women tend to compete – especially with other women,” she said. Because of the competition, women tend to be aggressive when they see a position they want.

Women compete in the workplace for many reasons. Because of the continuing gender wage gap, women compete harder against one another for the higher-paying positions. “And while it should inspire us to continue to work towards a truly level playing (and paying) field, it instead has done something quite different,” reports Molly Cain in  Forbes. “While we oftentimes do look at the man next to us and say, ‘Hey, I want to make what he makes,’ more often, we look at the woman next to us and think, ‘She’s such a suck-up, she doesn’t deserve the salary/bonus/promotion/etc.'”

Another reason for the competition between women is the lack of top jobs available for women executives.There are only 15 female CEO’s in Fortune 500 companies today, that’s only three percent…and we now make up 46.8% of workforce today,” notes Cain in Forbes. 

Women in the corporate world also fear missing a beat, so compete harder. “Because of historical and present mistreatment of women in the workforce, I do believe that we may be more scrutinized than our male counterparts, but yet again, it has to do with a competitive, troubled economic climate and continuing cries for workforce equality,” explains O’Neal. “If a woman becomes pregnant or has a disproportionate amount of responsibility associated with caring for a child or a loved one, she may be seen as less productive and as a possible drain on corporate resources.”

But women can change the way they are perceived.  “While we all should be pursuing continuous growth, if a woman is a transformational leader  and brings her spiritual intelligence (servanthood consciousness) mental intelligence (vision); emotional intelligence (passion); and physical intelligence (focused time management) to work she will  be comfortable completing not competing with other women,” notes Davis-DeFoe.

And sometimes tempered toughness is a good thing.   “I have had my fair share of tough female bosses, but on a positive note, I think it was my bosses’ true desire to make me a better executive,” says O’Neal. “I had one female boss who felt that I should mirror her excellence and she was way tougher on me, her female staffer than her male staffers.  At times she would severely chastise or reprimand us, in an effort to protect us from our own naivety.”

So how can women change the way working women are viewed?

  • Stop gossiping: “From childhood, most females are taught to ‘play nice,’”,” says Davis-DeFoe. “Anything else is considered ill-mannered. Because women know that they’re supposed to appear nice, their behaviors toward one another go underground. When they’re feeling competitive they will often backbite or gossip about a co-worker, subtly trying to undermine the competitor’s position.”
  • Stop sabotaging relationships: “When unsophisticated thinking meets desperation, all hell breaks loose,” notes O’Neal. “That’s why it is important for women to constantly keep the big picture in mind. Opportunities abound for the resourceful thinker who maintains her decorum and leaves childish games in the schoolyard. ”
  • Stop judging:  “It has long been said that women dress for other women. That is because women tend to notice how other women are being perceived in a group,” explains Dr. Davis-DeFoe. “As a woman in a place of business, the best bet is to get to know the women you work with before assuming anything.”
  • Stop living up to the myth: Flip the script instead. “I embrace the misconceptions and use them to my advantage. If they expect me to be unapproachable and catty, I find a way to compliment them immediately.  If they expect me to be emotional, sometimes I become more human, which invites others to be more human as well,” O’Neal shares.
  • Stop making it personal: “Just as little boys can have a fist fight at one moment and be best buddies the next, men tend to shake off negative personal comments more quickly than women,” says Davis-DeFoe. “When a manager tells a woman that she’s doing something wrong, it can be difficult for her to remember that it’s just business and has nothing to do with how the manager feels about her.”

Have you worked for women bosses? What was your experience?

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