I have a confession to make — something I've never told anyone and would put me in a whole lot of hot water if it ever came out. I hate working for female bosses.
Although I am a staunch feminist, I cannot stand working for most of the women who have been my bosses. I'm no ingénue either. I have been in the workforce for 20 years, and I've worked in several jobs in the public and private sectors.
At this point in my career, I'd say my bosses have been roughly 70% female, 30% male. Nearly all of them had formal management training so any gross, inappropriate behavior is not for lack of knowledge. The experience I do have working for women is terrible, and in some ironic twist, the worst offenders are at women's organizations.
The upside to my negative experiences is that I've been able to nail down common characteristics of the Female Boss — a composite character of all the female bosses I have had.
During times of crisis, the Female Boss remains focused on personnel issues or inconsequential details.
My job requires me to work with the primary person of the office. When bad things happen, I literally don't have time to fuck around. When I walk into the Female Boss's office, I come prepared to discuss the issue, strategize on a response, and move forward on specific actions.
What normally happens? The Female Boss thinks this is a prime opportunity to complain about the font size (Arial 10). Or bullet point formatting. Or margins. Or the fact that I squint when concentrate because that expression, "...looks like anger and that stresses [Female Boss] out!" Or the intern's two second delay in answering the phone ten months ago. Or the run in my pantyhose. Or the way I use a comma.
Instead of leaving her office with an action plan, I leave with an impromptu negative performance evaluation or edits to the logo that has been in place for at least a decade.
When things do not go as planned, the Female Boss begins and ends with the premise that a human (usually female) on her staff is to blame, especially in times of crisis.
I get it. People screw up, and those people should be blamed. But sometimes traffic is bad or a hurricane strikes or a vendor screws up. That's life. In my experience, the Female Boss assumes the mistake begins and ends with someone on her staff and conducts herself accordingly. Unfortunately rather than solving the problem, whatever it is, staff just end up playing some metaphorical game of pinball where everyone points fingers at everyone else.
If the mistake is clearly because of an external, unavoidable factor, the Female Boss will go to great lengths to ensure one of her staffers is blamed anyway. For example, during a natural disaster, one of the secretaries was blamed for not alerting the Female Boss fast enough to this new information. That delay was approximately one hour.
No one wants to be the target of the Female Boss' ire because...
When doling out criticism, the Female Boss starts out professional and ends up getting very personal.
We all went through 8th grade where we learned that "totally helpful friend" wasn't really helpful at all. You know that girl. She wants to let you know that all the girls think your outfit is stupid and the guys on the football team were laughing at your training bra unsnapping during gym class. Oh but that girl never did any of that. She is just helping you out by telling you all this nasty stuff that she'd never spread around.
Whatever happened to her? She is probably someone I worked for. I've had the Female Boss let me know that "others have complained" about my "snappy" behavior without bothering to give examples. The Female Boss also lets me know that my face defaults to a frown and my voice is too sharp without blinking an eye at the male colleague who continually slams his fist (in anger) down on the conference room table during meetings.
The Female Boss has repeatedly questioned and criticized my intelligence on the most basic issues. A standard scenario is for her to quiz me on a particular issue, but when I go to answer, she'll cut me off five seconds in to tell me I didn't give enough detail therefore proving that I lack "true insight and understanding" into the office's mission. She will do this regardless of who is around.
Overall demeanor is unpredictable on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.
In one week, a Female Boss threatened my job, insulted my IQ, asked about my personal life, and then invited me out for drinks for "girl talk." Every morning, I was never sure what feedback I was going to get, which kept me on my toes all the time. (I guess that was the point.) But I could never relax and be truly productive.
Raises, performance evaluations, and other Female Boss feedback are largely based on whether or not she likes the individual personally as opposed to workplace output.
In all my jobs, I've worked my ass off to do the best that I can. My resume and job progression reflect that. Sure some former boss's might differ on that evaluation, but I can guarantee I worked extremely hard. But did that matter come raise time? Fuck no.
I've had a couple of jobs where our salaries were public. When I asked for a $5,000 raise, I quite often heard all about budget cuts, sacrificing for the greater good, making tough decisions, and "maybe next year." But a few weeks later, budget cuts didn't seem to be an issue for my fellow male executive who landed himself a $15,000 raise that he didn't ask for! In the middle of a recession. Impressive!
What's really sad is that two of the women I worked for had zero problems with female staffers walking out the door to better offers. But when it came to male staffers even hinting they would leave? Out came the pleas and requests for how to make those men stay. "I can't function without you," were the exact words the Female Boss said to a guy who acted like answering phone calls and emails were optional work activities.
What is at the root of all this erratic behavior? My one and only guess is insecurity, and I can see where it comes from.
Even though women have broken barriers in education, degrees, medicine and law, and managerial positions, we still don't see other women at the highest levels of power in this country. A woman who looks around the room and doesn't see people who look like her? She probably thinks that the ability to achieve what she has achieved is finite for her gender. Therefore if another female contender achieves success on that same path, that success will take away from any current women's accomplishments and rob potential the potential for more achievement for other women since it is doled out so rarely.
*NOTE: The women I refer to in this post only refer to the specific women and men with whom I have worked. My opinion does not address female bosses in the entire United States' workforce. This narrative is only meant to be a commentary on my personal, first hand experience. Nothing more.