Do Women Make Better Bosses?

Featured January 10 Words by Ian Wylie And Rosie Carr
Do Women Make Better Bosses?


I'm an expert in this field, having been expertly managed by many women so far, including a mother, sister, wife, seven-year-old daughter and several female bosses. I've had my share of male and female bosses, but women are the top bananas. Against all the odds, it must be said: women bosses spend half their working lives trying to dispel damaging stereotypes reinforced relentlessly by terrifying movie characters such as The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly (gee thanks, Meryl) or Cruella De Vil (nice one, Glenn). Women who make it to the top are evil, spiteful and probably barren divorcées who will make fur coats out of your puppies given half a chance.

That's the message, from Hollywood at least. Yes, women born soon after World War II had to play the man's game if they wanted to reach the boardroom. They had to pretend to be men, wear imposing suits and act as hard-nosed and ruthless as their male colleagues. Many had to sacrifice family life in their quest for advancement. But younger generations of women - while still facing barriers to progress - are more self-assured than their predecessors and once in positions of power feel more able to behave like women. Sceptics (or are they really misogynists?) love pointing to surveys that show women dislike female bosses even more than men. But what does that prove, other than competition within each sex is fiercer than it is between the sexes? In fact, I've found that women bosses tend to be less "bossy", simply because they recognise people dislike bossiness more in a woman. And the notion that only women experience mood swings in the office? When did macho anger, grumpiness and impatience stop counting as moods? So why do women make better bosses? In my experience female managers have been more collaborative and inclusive than any male boss I've had. They have been more open and less afraid to admit weaknesses. Secondly, female bosses are better at diplomacy and tact - many male bosses I've known have been self-absorbed and competitive.

Finally, women naturally encourage others to perform rather than scold and reprimand them. Their brains are better wired for reading minds and emotions. Flatter a male boss and he'll lap it up. Butter up a woman and she'll guess what you're up to. Women bosses also tend to fight harder for their subordinates, according to negotiation research.

Does all this make women better bosses in all circumstances? Of course not. Unfortunately, managers succeed only if people accept their authority. And research suggests women bosses tend to take fewer risks than men. But a little risk-aversion would have gone a long way to preventing the current mess we're in… would it not?

Ian Wylie writes for The Financial Times and the Guardian


Women make neither better nor worse bosses than men. If women bosses were truly better, every company in the world would be queuing up to have one, wouldn't they? If women could deliver profits more efficiently than men, the top job would be hers, not his, every time.

Clearly that's not the case. Whatever the gender, bosses come with a wide range of qualities and even where research suggests that women are more likely to have certain attributes than men, they do not have a monopoly on the best or most relevant ones. Men and women are different and they bring different qualities to leadership roles. For example, men are often more

assertive, more decisive and more willing to work independently. They are also less likely to cry or to worry about hurting someone's feelings. Men are inclined to be naturally good at motivating people and encouraging them to think out of the box. All this is good for business. Men take more risks. Research by McKinsey found that in general, women don't take risks. "They wait until they have all the necessary skills or the full answer."

Women are, according to some research, more caring, compassionate, and nurturing of talent. They are good at listening, and possibly better at picking up on unhappiness or discontent in the workplace. They are better communicators, keener to build teams, and more likely to reward and praise.

Female managers tend to be more collaborative and democratic than male managers. They are better at feedback.

All these attributes can bring benefits to business and there is research that suggests women bosses can be better performers than men. But all that proves is that some exceptional women have made it to the top - they are not the average woman. In any case, many women bosses tend to display manly traits rather than feminine ones. Margaret Thatcher was a great leader, but hardly a cuddly, soft-centred boss.

Female traits might help a woman to be a good boss but they are not the only qualities required in a great leader. Time that a female boss spends sorting out relationship problems in an office might be time that a man will spend focusing on developing a crucial networking opportunity - something research tells us they're better at - and it could be that focusing on the third party yields the best results for the business. Surveys of people who have encountered both male and female bosses show that most people have more confidence in men's ability to lead.

Face it. Whatever caring, nurturing and top-notch communication skills women bring to the office, men bring equally good ones of their own. There are many brilliant women leaders, but sex doesn't come into it. A good leader is a good leader.

Rosie Carr is deputy editor of Investors Chronicle magazine

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