Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Bitchy Boss Syndrome

Everyone is talking about Olga Khazan’s Atlantic essay about why women in the workplace are so mean to other women. She exposes the fact that many women are poor managers. One might ask how many incompetent women managers were hired on the basis of their ability and how many were hired for other reasons.

Khazan’s observations are correct. Women in the workplace do not treat other women well. And they do not seem to treat men very well either. This tells Khazan that these women are victims of male dominant cultures, cultures to which they are trying, well or poorly, to adapt.

Is it fair or useful, when discovering that women are less competent managers, to blame it on men. When men are blamed women are made to look like marionettes whose strings are being pulled by the patriarchy. This absolves women of responsibility for their behavior, and of their moral agency.

It might be a good idea to ask whether women who blame men for everything that they do wrong are more or less likely to be good managers. Defining yourself as a victim of the patriarchy does not instill confidence.

And while we are blaming men, let’s also point out that being an executive or a partner in a law firm might very well exact a personal price. While men who rise in stature become more attractive to women, women who rise in stature become less attractive to men. One might ask whether women executives are in such a foul mood because their lives do not resemble what they were promised when they headed out into the world. They might have been told that, having attained personal fulfillment through career success, they would have their pick of wonderful husbands who were going to share household chores.

In truth, they often find that big careers coupled with motherhood make it impossible to be the kinds of mothers they want to be. Their children often suffer from inattention.

One young lawyer understood the root cause of the female partners’ dissatisfaction:

Still, the senior women’s behavior made sense to her. They were slavishly devoted to their jobs, regularly working until nine or 10 at night. Making partner meant either not having children or hiring both day- and nighttime nannies to care for them. “There’s hostility among the women who have made it,” she said. “It’s like, ‘I gave this up. You’re going to have to give it up too.’

Of course, they might be saying: I gave this up. Don't follow my example.

Khazan adds this on the cause of the problem:

Is this what happens when the totally normal, societally sanctioned choices you’ve made—work hard; have children; slave away for a promotion; go on a little vacation, not too long!; come back and work even harder—don’t add up to the life you envisioned? You said the right thing at the meeting, didn’t you? You helped on the important project. Why not you, then? It would be enraging.

But, who said that your choices were normal? (Note that Khazan does not include husbands in the mix.) Who said that sacrificing family for career was normal or even socially sanctioned? Who said that hiring a team of nannies to bring up your children is totally normal?These choices were prescribed by feminist ideology, not by the patriarchy. Dare I say that they are somewhat elitist. And if things did not work out as promised, why blame men?

Consider this example. Recall that Anne-Marie Slaughter quit her job at the State Department in order to care for her children. Her elder son, at around age 13 or 14 had been suspended from school, had taken up with the wrong crowd and had been picked up by the police. So, Slaughter did what any conscientious parent would do: she quit her job and returned home to care for her child.

We note that Slaughter had had a role reversal marriage from the beginning, her husband being Mr. Mom. So, the problems did not begin when she got her dream job.

We note that Slaughter had the option. Her husband was gainfully employed and she easily found a job in Princeton. And yet, what would have happened if these options did not exist? What would have happened if she was the breadwinner and could not quit her job? Do you think that this would have made her a great executive? Would this have made her into a bitchy, bossy, resentful executive who wanted to signal to young women that getting to the top of a male status hierarchy exacted a very serious price?

Anyway, beyond the standard blame-the-patriarchy rhetoric, Khazan’s article offers a damning picture of women leaders. Could it be that women hated Hillary Clinton because she reminded them of the bad female bosses they had had?

One young lawyer, for example, divides partners in law firms into three categories: aggressive bitch, passive-aggressive bitch, and tuned-out indifferent bitch. This woman, named Shannon, apparently did not want to become like a partner, so she quit her job in order to spend more time bringing up her children.

The law partners did not demonstrate great management skills. Khazan reports:

She once spotted a female partner screaming at the employees at a taxi stand because the cars weren’t coming fast enough. Another would praise Shannon to her face, then dispatch a senior associate to tell her she was working too slowly. One time, Shannon emailed a female partner—one of the passive-aggressive variety—saying, “Attached is a revised list of issues and documents we need from the client. Let me know of anything I may have left off.”

“Here’s another example” of you not being confident, the partner responded, according to Shannon. “The ‘I may have left off’ language is not as much being solicitous of my ideas as it is suggesting a lack of confidence in the completeness of your list.”

Compared to male partners, female partners were bitches:

Some of the male partners could be curt, she said, but others were nice. Almost all of the female partners, on the other hand, were very tough.

Khazan calls it “a pattern of wanton meanness.”

By now, most women have learned the hard way that it is better to report to a man.

Khazan writes:

Large surveys by Pew and Gallup as well as several academic studies show that when women have a preference as to the gender of their bosses and colleagues, that preference is largely for men. A 2009 study published in the journal Gender in Management found, for example, that although women believe other women make good managers, “the female workers did not actually want to work for them.” The longer a woman had been in the workforce, the less likely she was to want a female boss.

And also:

In a smaller survey of 142 law-firm secretaries—nearly all of whom were women—not one said she or he preferred working for a female partner, and only 3 percent indicated that they liked reporting to a female associate. (Nearly half had no preference.) “I avoid working for women because [they are] such a pain in the ass!” one woman said. In yet another study, women who reported to a female boss had more symptoms of distress, such as trouble sleeping and headaches, than those who worked for a man.

Given women’s poor track record as managers, it makes sense that other women would not want to be associated with them. Naturally, feminists believe that it’s about the male dominant organizations. And yet, at the same time, everyone knows that when more women join a company or a profession, its status and prestige will decline. If hiring more women decreases the value of your partnership you might not be happy to hire or to mentor more women.


David Foster said...

Law firms have a reputation, at least from what I have heard, of not being the abode of stellar managers in general. Studies of management practices would have more credibility if they would focus on more 'normal' kinds of business organizations.

Personally, I have had several female managers reporting to me who did excellent jobs, in my opinion and that of their (male and female) subordinates.

Sam L. said...

It strikes me that this behavior shows up in middle-school as cliques form. There's always a "top meany". "Boss Hen"?

Susan said...

The CEO of Lockheed Martin is a women--extremely successful company, that.
The exception probes the rule.

David Foster said...

One thing I *have* noticed about the behavior of certain female managers/executives (NOT the ones I mentioned above) is a tendency to criticize women reporting to them in ways that I think a man would be less-likely to do. (By 'noticed' in these cases I do not mean observed personally but was reported to me by highly credible people who were there.) One example: a female executive criticized a woman's fashion sense to her manager, in the presence of other managers. The woman in question was not an outside salesperson or field engineer, but was a graphic artist who did not meet with customers or others outside the company. Another example: a high-level female executive was dismissive of a woman's potential for a promotion, because (she said) 'we don't want people that old in these jobs.' Again, said in a group of managers and in this case almost certainly illegal.

trigger warning said...

As noted above about Lockheed (and don't forget PepsiCo), smart women with the right priorities can be effective business leaders. I happen to think Carly Fiorina did a good job at HP, and got burned by the tech meltdown. She was on my shortlist in the early 2008 presidential hustings.

Law firms, and particularly large firms, are very different, and tend to have terrible managing partners of both sexes.

JP said...

"Law firms have a reputation, at least from what I have heard, of not being the abode of stellar managers in general. Studies of management practices would have more credibility if they would focus on more 'normal' kinds of business organizations."

I agree with this.

Studying law firm management practices is effectively studying managerial pathology.

If you are studying law firms, you already *know* that there is some kind of managerial disease. The inquiry should be directed to determining the precise nature of the specific dysfunction occurring in the law firm in question.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"There’s hostility among the women who have made it,” she said. “It’s like, ‘I gave this up. You’re going to have to give it up too.’ ”


With great suffering comes great entitlement.

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JPL17 said...

Ares -- There's a huge difference between managing with "tough love", and simply "being a jerky manager". A good manager supervising people facing the same challenges he or she faced in the past will manage those people at the very least with tough love, i.e., trying to toughen them up enough to overcome the challenges. Whereas the jerky manager will basically belittle them so as to build up himself or herself.

Bottom line, I think the studies you cited -- i.e., those concluding that "we are often less compassionate to others who are facing challenges we've faced in the past" -- are not guides to good management techniques. Instead, they simply prove the obvious -- namely, that most people are crappy managers.

Ares Olympus said...

JPL17, no disagreement - all leadership is hard, not just managers. And yet perhaps the only thing that is harder than how to be than a good leader is how to be a good critic of leadership.

And none of us are objective observers when self-interest or ego is involved, and all of us have our own individual "authority issues" that can have more to do with our own blindspots and unidentified defects than the crappy leader we don't like in a given moment for telling us something we don't want to hear.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

If you're gonna have tough love, it requires the love. A lot of these women described in the article ain't got it.

The other one I despise is "brutal honesty." Honesty is enough. If you care about the other person, honesty is more than enough. No need to be brutal.

Anonymous said...

misogynist: A man who dislikes women as much as women dislike women

Ares Olympus said...

Ignoring the gender aspect, it reminds me of the studies that show we are often less compassionate to others who are facing challenges we've faced in the past, perhaps in line with "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger [and bitchier]."

So this belief can help you rationalize that being hard on others (even like being brutally honest) is what will make them stronger, like boot camp. Of course boot camp has a psychological purpose, to break down our individual ego, and then rebuilds it up again with a team perspective. As well when you're in the middle of being broken down, you're not going to be sympathetic to your drill sergeant.
'We found that people who endured challenges in the past - like divorce or being skipped over for a promotion - were less likely to show compassion for someone facing the same struggle, compared with people with no experience in that particular situation.

'Taken together, these results suggest that people who have endured a difficult experience are particularly likely to penalise those who struggle to cope with a similar ordeal.'

Researchers say a big reason for this is something they term an 'empathy gap'.

Though we may remember that a past experience was painful or stressful, we tend to underestimate just how painful that experience felt in the moment.