Managing Expectations

Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada"

Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada"

I came across this op-ed article on NYTimes.com debating the efficacy and superiority of female vs. male managers and I thought it would make a nice follow up to my previous comment on CEO’s.

The opinion piece quotes various researchers (four women and one man) in response to a business column interview with Carol Smith, senior vice president and chief brand officer for the Elle Group in which she puts forth that women make better managers than men do. Her assertion has nothing to do with character or emotion she simply thinks women are more organized and less given to distraction. Carol also contends that men are better at letting things go, not over analyzing an issue to death and I agree with her. I think women are more focused and less inclined to waste time at work because men take being at the office and their climb up the corporate ladder for granted. Women can’t afford that luxury, especially if they aspire to the executive level and raising a family. Most women really have two full time jobs in that scenario. Carol also mentions that she comes into the office for about four hours every Sunday to check her email and alleviate the Monday crush of to-do’s. I wager most of her male colleagues are on the golf course on Sunday mornings. I probably would be as well, quite honestly.

Desperate Housewife Lynette at the office

Desperate Housewife Lynette at the office

A few things stand out to me in the debate on male vs. female management….

1) I’m disappointed that the issue of “emotion” in the workplace still arises as a distinctly feminine management trait and almost all of the researchers agreed that women are more emotional at work. I disagree. I’ve seen men yell, make completely inappropriate comments, even throw things in a full out tantrum. This comment came up in the response thread and I loved it…

“Why is it that, still, in 2009 we are saying “Women also bring emotion to the workplace…” Why is it that when male bosses yell, trade insults, cut others down behind their backs, or refuse to take the blame, for example, this is not seen as anger, jealousy, fear, or a whole host of other emotions that men are capable of?”

When men express these emotions it’s a healthy display of passion, office bravado or trash talkin’ whereas when women make the same mistakes they’re seen as overly emotional, irrational or unstable.

2) Both male and female subordinates constantly complain that their female bosses are passive aggressive. Well, of course they are. What do you expect from people who have been consistently conditioned not to be aggressive, confrontational or “unfeminine”. Watch a few hours of Saturday morning cartoons, especially the commercials. Little girls hold baby dolls and coo or groom pretty pink horses, boys blaze new trails with trucks, race cars and GI Joe. I’ve never seen a girl in a Tonka truck commercial. The very characteristics that define the powerful, hard charging, effective successful CEO are considered unattractive in a woman.

Now there's a busy day

Now there's a busy day

3) Very few discussions on equality and female leadership in corporate America deal with the elephant in the room. As long as women hold primary responsibility for reproductive and child care decisions (see any birth control for men in the marketplace?) they will never truly achieve equal footing in the workplace. If Republicans and the religious right really cared about family values there would be a well staffed, government funded daycare in every company and corporation in America.

Men don’t stop to consider if a potential job opportunity allows for paternity leave or flexible scheduling and so forth. They don’t even have to think about it. Their wives will take care of all that while they’re on the golf course or talking about their fantasy football scores before the big board meeting. Job equality will come about when there are substantial cultural changes and that might take a while. In the meantime, if I have a little girl I’m buying her a big, mean Tonka truck.

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