All of us deserve another cup of whatever we were sipping as we sat around the table for our discussion on lying about one’s age. The conversation was lively and frank.

Leslie wrote, "I’ve earned my stripes and I want to model to my 13 year old daughter that real women are beautiful when they are themselves." And Carolyn declared, "… yes, it’s a relief to be able to be whatever age you are. Life’s too short to keep hiding out from yourself."

We had a lot of voices around that table and we invite you all to pull up a chair for our new topic. In a recent Elle/ survey (read our blog entry about it here), the majority of women (51 percent) and men (57 percent) said the sex of their boss didn’t matter. But for the 49 percent of women who did indicate a preference, three out of four said they would prefer to work for a man. Does it matter to you? Why?

Other interesting survey findings: Both men and women think male bosses are more likely to be bullies — despite stereotypes of female bosses being more difficult to work for. Female bosses considered attractive were rated competent 58 percent of the time, compared with 23 percent for unattractive supervisors. And 71 percent of women believe they have to work harder or be smarter — or both — to get the same respect as their male peers. Only 36 percent of men agreed with that statement.

We should note that this survey of 60,000 respondents was conducted online and is not considered nationally representative because it was largely restricted to readers. Still, we found ourselves intrigued by the findings and the subsequent discussion at MSNBC, much of which has been very negative toward women.

What’s been your experience — as an employee or as a boss — dealing with workplace gender issues? Let’s talk about it.

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  • Carolyn Hahn March 30, 2007 at 12:04 am

    God bless her for at least saying that! You have to go back to pre-code 30’s movies for sexual frankness, and the remembrance — blotted out in the 50’s — that Rosie the Riveter won WW2 at home. That said, how many of our *fathers* had that many job/boss possibilities/role models? My mother’s family: granddaughter of a Lutheran minister (poor, but one didn’t do it for the money), daughter of an army officer (ditto). My father: parents worked in a chicken factory and the PO, and were lucky to have a job, it being the Depression, etc., So my parents were the first in their families to go to college, I don’t think their own sense of how far they could advance was all that strong (My father once said it had never occurred to him — ever — to leave one job for a better one).
    They say a women’s sense of self is shaped by her father’s confidence in her [to which I’ll add: and in himself]. Anyway, Young People of Today do have more role models for both workers and bosses!

  • Jane Finalborgo March 26, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Carolyn, I agree on the lack of female role models when we were younger. That’s probably why I get so disappointed when women who have made it to the top don’t act as mentors for other women coming along. My first grade teacher did suggest that I write a book some day (this was the same teacher who read us Bible versus in school. Oh well, it was the south in the 50s).

  • Carolyn Hahn March 23, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    Jane, what a great point, that there are bad bosses of both genders, and that a good one is a gift, no matter how hard he/she makes one work. What I think is relevant to our demographic is how few decent female bosses there *were* when we were starting out.
    Look at our vocational choices — what happened if you wanted female role models for *workers*, let alone bosses? I grew up in Kingston, NY, population 22,000. Women were 1) moms 2) teachers [very few in anything after elementary school] and 3) nurses.
    My mother was wonderful — funny, smart, and a great mom. But she wasn’t in the work force after she got married and had babies, and she died when I was 12, so … not a lot of role models out there–female boss? ferget it. If she had lived, my fantasy is that she — who came of age in the even more repressed 50’s — would have said “no way!!!” to my father’s suggestion that I become an occupational therapist (what she had been), but in 1978, at 17 or 18, what did I know about the world of work?
    I didn’t even know what my father made — it was a secret! How do you know what your time is worth as a worker if money is a secret, and it’s unfeminine to negotiate or compete (((whole ‘nother topic!))).

  • Jane Finalborgo March 22, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    I’ve had two terrible bosses in my career– one male and one female. The male was obviously “hitting” on me, and I only got a promotion out of that office because a women’s caucus had been started to insure that qualified women were not discriminated against (this was in the early 70s and I was in my early 20s). The female made life excruciating because she was having an affair with her boss to whom I also reported, and she took full advantage of her inside track.
    This bad boss behavior had nothing to do with male or female traits. It had to do with immaturity, and poor management skills. A good boss (and I’ve had them) is demanding yet fair, appreciative of hard work, willing to offer feedback and sets an example of high standards and clear-cut expectations. This kind of boss is rare, and it’s unrealistic to think that games will not be played in the workplace by both men and women trying to get ahead.
    But it’s wrong to paint bad bosses with a gender brush. This is especially damaging to women who are trying to make up for years of being held back from management positions they deserved. It doesn’t matter to me whether my boss is male of female as long as she or he is a good leader who gets the job done. It does matter when women engage in undermining and undercutting each other in the workplace. We should know better.

  • Carolyn Hahn March 21, 2007 at 8:17 am

    Hope that post doesn’t make me officially nuts — It’s been years since I worked in an office with a male boss (that would be hospital land, with the male doc (shrink, actually) boss who told me he had hired me because I looked “like the Madonna,” which (this was a Catholic hospital & pre-Madonna Madonna) was a weird thing even in 1982 for a 55ish male MD to say to a 22 year old, yes?
    In recent years it’s been an all female world: education/healthcare. Several 45-60ish co-workers/supervisors mentioned that it would be nice to have a man in the office to break up the [gnarly? catty? can’t think of what the word was] female energy. Does your office have some dreadful claustrophobic female energy that can only be dissipated by a man, any man? Do tell. I’m wondering if the people I work with are like some sort of pre-feminist bugs, frozen in 1969 amber — surely there are less stereotypical workplaces out there?

  • Carolyn Hahn March 20, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Such a good point about “The Devil Wears Prada.” I didn’t think of that boss as the [one-dimensional] enemy (the book did, which is why it was so much weaker than the movie). The protagonist gets more and more “in the Zone” with her boss, and the boss gruffly shares a little more of the [sometimes ruthless] insight that would have helped the protagonist had she stuck it out. In the end, she decides the boss’s values are dreadful and stomps off. The boss (and she) had pretty much lost their personal lives at that point, but as you note, Dr Allen, the boss stays in the zone [and can be accused of nothing worse than being pragmatic–her and Simon Cowell!].
    I also note that the boss has exactly one friend/confidante: a gay man. The protagonist finds the same man is also the only one in the office she can trust. Not to reveal too much, but he puts up with a lot of pain to keep the boss’s friendship [and it has to do with what power she may still have to help him].
    I wonder if some of why women say they prefer a male boss, or at the very least an “attractive” female boss is because our society is so built on women’s beauty (some of which revolves around the preservation of youth), and what that power can do, one way or another. If a woman works for a man, isn’t there always an assessment of whether he is desirable, whether he can be influenced — OK, this must sound like me projecting, but certainly even in the Most Professional Relationship On Earth somebody on one side or the other has done a “hot or not?” assessment, yes? So we hoard that information — might come in handy some time to be able to influence/charm the Neanderthal male boss into giving us more life-giving fire/brontosaurus flesh/$, yes?
    Whereas if you have a female boss, and you’re a woman, there’s no game to play — she knows all the tricks, thanks. At least if she’s “attractive” she reminds us that she may have more power [in a society that values those things] and we can have whatever trickle down crumbs may come of that. Or suffer worse consequences if we mess up than someone with less attractiveness/power might inflict.
    To get back to the gay male friend — it might be a cliche (OK, it is a cliche) of the fey gay man, but the Stanley Tucci character in “the Devil Wears Prada” is CHARMING. Charmingly flirtatious, basically, except that because he’s gay it’s a safe flirtation — for the boss, and even for our twerpy young protagonist. He’s no threat to anyone, except in his brilliantly bitchy assessments.
    Dr Allen’s assistants are 23, she doesn’t mention their sex. But just the age difference for 23 year old women working for older women … Stern Mom! No Messing Around (age alone might give the message). Whereas if the boss was a man, there might still be the temptation on the young folks part to flirt with Neanderthal Dad (more brontosaurus, please — but without me having to do all that work that the unimpressed female boss requires! So Dr. Allen ain’t messing around, and male doctors would presumably need the same level of dedication, but there might be another dynamic operating from one or both sides in a male/female workshplace.
    Dr Allen offers mentoring … how many 23 year old females are focused enough to appreciate the longer term rewards of that over whatever power can be gained by the evanescent power of their youthful beauty?

  • Dr. Pat Allen March 19, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    I was one of seven women in my 1976 medical school class, along with about 140 men. The chairman of the department of surgery was Dr. Hiram Polk, who was nationally known for his temper and opinionated diatribes. But, he was an astonishing teacher and department chairman for many, many years.
    I wanted to be a surgeon in medical school, so I found every opportunity to hang with the guys in the ER or OR, famous for doing all scut work and begging to be the third assistant. Dr. Polk never allowed mediocrity and never accepted any excuses. He believed that perfection was attainable and by God, his team had better deliver it.
    Dr. Polk recognized my determination and ambition and included me in ways that were unheard of for women at that time in the south. He personally shepherded my internship application through the admission process to New York Hospital-Cornell Medical School.
    During my internship and training at New York Presbyterian Hospital, all my bosses were men. I spent most of my time under the leadership of Dr. William Ledger, who became the chairman of obstetrics and gynecology there in 1979, my second year.
    Immediately upon arrival he announced, “A residency is NOT a democracy” (actually one of his milder pronouncements). He was dictatorial and demanding –and determined to produce doctors from his residency program who would carry on his legacy of clinical and scientific excellence. He was one tough SOB … and I adored him.
    He gave all of his students and house officers an opportunity to become wonderful doctors, either in academia or in clinical practice.
    These guys were/are narcissistic, arrogant, hail-to-the-chief kind of guys. I have never worked for a woman after college. I did work for the Dominican nuns when I was a nurse’s aide, full-time, from age 14 to 18, and boy were they tough. But, just like these two chairmen who were difficult, the nuns rewarded hard work and determination with mentoring and teaching.
    After my residency, I borrowed money and became an unusual doctor for 1982 in New York City — an old-fashioned solo practitioner. Now, there were many reasons that I chose this route, but that makes for another blog. The reason that is most important is that I do not play well with others. I did not want to report to, be controlled by or ordered around by some bureaucratic nonsense.
    No one had ever taught me in medical school or residency training how to be a boss or how to run a business, so I just made it up.
    This solo practice model has been wonderful for me and for many of my patients. They know who will be covering for nights, weekends and holidays. They know who will be there for an emergency or for a family member or friend with a problem. It is small-town medicine, and I am the mayor and the police chief of this small town.
    I am certain that I am difficult to work for — Dr. Polk and Dr. Ledger were my templates. And, I sure wanted to measure up!
    Last summer I saw “The Devil Wears Prada” and was truly astonished that there was another female boss as difficult as I am. I do not drop my coat on my assistant’s desk, but I do almost everything else that editor did (with a much less impressive wardrobe). When I enter my office, I am in a ZONE. I am really focused on patient issues and begin to multi-task like an Olympic gold medalist.
    Excellence drove the editor in that movie. Every night she took “the book” from her assistant and used the raw materials submitted by the creative staff to produce excellence. Nothing else mattered. Sure, she was a bit extreme; it was a movie, after all.
    But, just as excellence drove her to focus 24 hours a day, it also fuels my work. After all, a mistake in a fashion magazine won’t kill you, but a mistake in a doctor’s office is unforgivable.
    When I recently hired a new 23-year-old receptionist and 23-year-old registered nurse, I explained to them that I was difficult, but it wasn’t personal. I speak while I think and work while I think, and I need others to supply the raw material (get the chart, get the doctor on the phone, find the report … now, please). This allows me to focus on my creative work: the practice of medicine.
    Both young women are very smart and have ambitions for careers in healthcare. I promised to mentor them as I was mentored but made it very clear that “this office is not a democracy.” Then I made them both go to see “The Devil Wears Prada.” They knew what they were in for.
    I know that my staff is immensely proud of the work that we do. I know that they respect my unique style. But, I bet my life that they would never say that I am as easy to work for as most men.