Bosses: battle of the sexes

by 23 Jan 2012

A recent survey has shown fewer workers than ever before care whether their boss is male or female, but among those that do have a preference male bosses get the vote.

Joint research between the University of California and California State University has revealed that of more than 60,000 employees, a small majority (54%) of participants claimed to have no preference for the gender of their boss, but of the remaining participants twice as many preferred a male to a female boss.

Key findings from the research included:

  • A cross-sex bias based on respondents’ current boss emerged: men judged their female bosses more favourably and women judged male bosses more favourably.
  • 54% had no gender preference for their boss, 33% preferred a male boss, and 13% preferred a female boss.
  • Both men (32%) and women (27%) were more likely to say that they compete with same-sex colleagues than opposite-sex colleagues.
  • Both men and women in the male-dominated professions such as architecture and engineering preferred male bosses more than those in the female-dominated professions of personal care and social services.
  • Previous experience with male and female managers was associated with the preferences – respondents who currently reported to a male boss were more likely to prefer male management than those who currently reported to a female manager.
  • In addition, those respondents who had never worked for women were more likely to prefer male bosses than those who had never worked for men.
  • Reasons for preferring female management included positive attributes of female managers, such as their compassion and understanding. However, the most common justification for preferring male management was negative attitudes regarding female managers.

Overall the results of the study offered encouraging evidence of changing attitudes toward female leaders and suggested that increased exposure to female bosses reduced bias against female leaders. Gallup polls have indicated an encouraging trend toward indifference to the gender of one's manager. In a 1953 Gallup poll, just 25% of participants had no preference for the sex of their boss; in 1983 36% had indicated no preference, and by 2006, 43% had no preference.


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