Thumbs down for insensitive women bosses

Nov 28 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Workers prefer tough love. That was the message of a study published earlier this month by the UK Institute of Leadership & Management which found that that people would rather work for a tough boss who is successful than a lenient one who fails to deliver the goods.

The study, based on a poll of 1,5000 managers, revealed that while team-working and being focused on people were considered good attributes to have, they didn't help much when it came to delivering the goods.

But what if that tough boss is female?

According to Kristin Byron, assistant professor of management in the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, male managers who are perceived as unkind, insensitive and unaware of others' feelings are not considered to be any worse as a result. But woe betide a female manager who displays the same behaviour.

Byron set out to discover whether being good at spotting emotions meant managers had more satisfied staff.

She found that female managers who couldn't read unspoken emotions, such as facial expressions, posture, and tone of voice, were seen as less caring and thus received lower ratings of satisfaction from their staff.

But men in similar positions who were bad at spotting emotions were not viewed in the same negative light.

The findings, published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, were based on a study of 44 part-time students who were employed in a position with supervisory responsibilities as part of their MBA course, and 78 managers from four companies in the hospitality industry, to see how good they were at spotting emotions.

She also asked the staff of these managers to rate how supportive and persuasive their manager was and how satisfied they were with their bosses' behaviour.

"It seems female managers may be expected to be sensitive to others' emotions and to demonstrate this sensitivity by providing emotional support," Byron said.

"Because of this, female managers' job performance is judged on them being understanding, kind, supportive and sensitive.

"In contrast, this is not the basis to evaluate the performance of male managers. It is far more important for male managers, and men, in general, to be seen as analytical, logical and good at reasoning than showing care and concern for others."