“Bullying” and Assertive Women

The New York Times paints a daunting picture of “volatile”  New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who is running for mayor.

 The Times describes an incident in which Ms. Quinn expressed her dismay to the city’s former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum for what she deemed to be Gotbaum’s failure of leadership at a chaotic council meeting. The Times said Quinn slammed her hand on the table and said, “You were like Bambi in there!” (Ms. Quinn says she told the Public Advocate that she had an expression of “Bambi-like eyes.”) Gotbaum called it “unprofessional behavior.”

 Before bestowing the mantle of  Workplace Bully on Ms. Quinn, I think it is appropriate to  consider how much of Ms. Quinn’s notoriety is due to the fact that she is a woman running for mayor of New York City.

There is a serious dearth of women in leadership roles in our society. As noted in Forbes Magazine , men run roughly 97% of the nation’s  largest public companies, hold 84% of major corporate board positions and control 83% of Congress.  Sex discrimination is alive and well.

And the media have a long history of savaging assertive women. Think Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton in the ‘90s, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, singer Madonna, Martha Stewart, … even one-time Tea Party diva Sarah Palin.   Woman who seek power often  are magnets for  barbs like the ones the Times story throws at Quinn – brash, angry,  controlling, temperamental, surprisingly volatile, retaliated, screaming, “hair trigger eruptions of unchecked, face-to-face wrath,” etc.?

Plus it is hard imagine any candidate  making gains  in the rough and tumble  of the New York City mayoral race without sharp elbows.

 “I don’t think being pushy or bitchy or tough, or however you want to characterize it, is a bad thing,” Quinn is quoted as stating. “New Yorkers want somebody who is going to get things done.”

There also is an interesting paradox in the Times article.   Workplace bullies often reveal themselves first to their staff and subordinates. The Times writes that members of Quinn’s staff are “strikingly loyal, with close advisers staying by her side for years.”   That says something about Ms. Quinn.

Quinn may be the bully who is portrayed in the Times article but for now  I’m reserving judgment.

‘Queen Bee’ Boss is Obstacle to Other Women

What follows are excerpts from a study by psychologists at the University of Cincinnati concluding that female ‘Queen Bee’ bosses tend to be “cogs in the machine” to other women in the workplace.According to the researchers, a female boss is more likely to wreck a woman’s promotion prospects in male-dominated environments and men who report to a female manager get much more mentoring and support than their female colleagues. The researchers say that women who manage to break the glass ceiling may not want competition from other women and/or may want to blend in as much as possible with their male counterparts.  The excerpt is from:  Maume, David J. ,  Meet the new boss…same as the old boss? Female supervisors and subordinate career prospects,  Social Science Research Volume 40, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 287-298.

… Drawing a 2002 national sample of non-managerial workers, men exceeded women in receiving job-related support from female supervisors and were more optimistic about their promotion chances as a result. Although cross-sectional data precludes drawing firm conclusions regarding processes that occur over-time, the results are consistent with the notion that female managers are cogs in the machine, in that female supervisors have little or no effect on the career prospects of female subordinates, and instead foster men’s career prospects.

… when women attain jobs paying wages similar to men’s, informal workplace dynamics are unleashed that seek to restore men’s more privileged position in the workplace. These processes include isolation and exclusion from informal networks and professional growth opportunities ([Purcell, 2007] and [Reskin et al., 1999]), ratcheting up job demands to determine if women will put work ahead of family life as men do ([Fried, 1998] and [Hochschild, 1997]), and harassment of a general and/or sexual nature ([Acker, 1990] and [Roscigno, 2007]). The cumulative effect of these informal processes is that women’s work effectiveness is compromised, increasing the likelihood that they will either quit their jobs or be fired.

Given gendered informal dynamics that are pervasive in the workplace, some contend that female bosses either lack the power to impede organizational preferences to foster men’s careers, or that female bosses agree with negative stereotypes of female workers ([Cooper, 1997] and [Deaux, 1985]; Wajcman, 1998). And of course, female supervisors may themselves be the victims of informal processes to marginalize them and compromise their effectiveness ([Kanter, 1977] and [Fried, 1998]). In either case, when subordinates report to female supervisors, they may not perceive them to be any different from male bosses who give male subordinates more attention and more chances for promotion as way to advance their own careers. If so, female subordinates will be more likely to quit out of frustration or be fired, even though they may hold jobs paying wages similar to men’s. Jacobs (1989) characterized this process as one of “revolving doors,” in which women enter high-paying male-typed jobs only to exit these jobs later. This dynamic could reconcile the apparent inconsistency between studies reporting an association between more female managers and a lower gender wage gap, and this study’s finding that men’s, but not women’s, career prospects are enhanced when reporting a female superior.

… Despite these caveats, this study is the first representative analysis of how subordinate career prospects are affected by directly reporting to a female supervisor. The results are consistent with much research showing that workplaces are pervasively male-oriented in their customs, policies, and structures, and that female bosses are no different from male bosses in reacting to organizational preferences to invest in men’s careers more so than women’s. Additional research is needed on the organizational mechanisms fostering or impeding women’s ascendance to supervisory positions in order to assess progress toward the goal of affording men and women equal opportunity to exercise managerial authority. Yet, irrespective of what future studies of managerial attainment show, those who expect that female bosses will dramatically change the nature of superior-subordinate relations are likely to be disappointed.