Saturday, May 29, 2010

Who's Better at Work: Women or Men?

Who would you rather have as your manager - a woman or a man?
Madeline Heilman at New York University once conducted an experiment in which she told volunteers about a manager. Some were told, "Subordinates have often described Andrea as someone who is tough yet outgoing and personable. She is known to reward individual contributions and has worked hard to maximise employees' creativity." 
Other volunteers were told, "Subordinates have often described James as someone who is tough yet outgoing and personable. He is known to reward individual contributions and has worked hard to maximise employees' creativity." 
The only difference between what the groups were told was that some people thought they were hearing about a leader named Andrea while others thought they were hearing about a leader named James. Heilman asked her volunteers to estimate how likeable Andrea and James were as people. Three-quarters thought James was more likeable than Andrea.
One day, thinking about the many reasons why I love my new job, I confided hesitatingly to the Guy, "It seems a little weird to say this, but I love working under a woman again!"

Instead of calling me sexist (as he's wont to do when... I am), he immediately understood. He had women mentors and managers early on in his career, and loved working with them.

"I'm less hesitant, I'm more confident I'll be understood," I went on slowly, trying to analyze my own feelings. "I feel like I don't have to pretend to not have a personality, to not have a life outside of work. That she'll understand."

"Also, she's so much better at communicating, at reaching out. I don't have to second-guess what she's thinking."

The Guy nodded in sympathy.

"I guess it's not exactly a gender thing," I went on. "Communication, empathy - women build on these strengths more because they are perceived to be feminine, because they are not discouraged in these areas as they are in some others. When I had
a male boss who had these qualities, I liked working with him too!"

Read this whole article for another fascinating story of how a trans scientist discovered he was treated better after he became a man, and how another trans scientist was treated less seriously after she became a woman. She says:

"You get interrupted when you are talking, you can't command attention, but above all you can't frame the issues."
And, comparing herself to the other trans scientist in the same university, she says:
"Ben has migrated into the centre whereas I have had to migrate into the periphery."
(Sorry for the inconsistent paragraph spacing. Blogger is acting weird today, and I just couldn't get it to behave.)


starry eyed said...

It looks to me like the beneficiaries of a bias/privilege often deny its existence, while the victims can see it in every nuance, word, action and situation.

Unmana said...

starry eyed: Totally agree with the first part of your sentence, but even victims sometimes are so conditioned to the structure that they don't notice discrimination, or if they do they believe that's how it ought to be.

Gayatri said...

- Hmmm more than the man or woman thing...its the personality of the person that counts.
- I have seen good and bad heads in both sexes..
- Personally I have had women (juniors) coming upto me with the sentence "I thought u will understand better so....."
- women are considered more emotionally vulnerable...which is a sign of increased approachability
- BUT its how one deals with it that counts...sometime the work suffers
- Its what ur rather than what sex u are :D

starry eyed said...

True Unmana, the majority of women can't or don't want to see the system, because once you admit it, you have to do something about it, right?

Anonymous said...

Dude..haven't fully read your post,but the moment u said 'you like working with female bosses,i had to comment.
Thank god,somebody else thinks the same.I am so much more comfortable working with female bosses,taking orders from females.Is it because when I was growing up my biggest influences were my mother and elder sister?Dunno ,don't care.
But am linking you up.But oh wait, my blog is dead :P
what a coincidence that start reading blogs again,and this is one of the first post i get :-)

Unmana said...

Gayatri: Exactly. It's not gender-based.

starry: Exactly. (Yes, that's my word of the day.) Plus, in some ways, patriarchy benefits women too. They don't have to be primary bread-earners. They may have a man around to carry the bag of groceries. It's easy sometimes to just lie back and be "taken care of".

lostonthestreet: Thanks, dude! I have somehow felt much more comfortable with women bosses. My first boss was a woman, and while she was as tough as they come, I loved working with her. I still think "What would Viji do?" when I am dealing with something new or difficult. And my boss right now: she works harder than most people I know, she sets such high standards for herself, and yet manages to be so accomodating and appreciative of others. It's awesome.