‘Sisterhood Is Powerful’? Apparently Not At The Office, Polls Show

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Stewart Lawrence Stewart J. Lawrence is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy analyst who writes frequently on immigration and Latino affairs. He is also founder and managing director of Puentes & Associates, Inc., a bilingual survey research and communications firm.

Does the old feminist slogan – “Sisterhood is Powerful” — apply to the modern workplace? Not when it comes to expressing solidarity with a female boss, apparently.

In a new poll, women say they’d rather work for a man than a woman.  And it isn’t even close.   By a four to one margin, both men and women say they’d prefer to work for a man. To some it’s a shock, but it’s a remarkably consistent finding, regardless of who does the polling. Some past surveys have suggested some of the reasons for this apparent “dissing” of female bosses – and they’re not ones that most feminists want to hear.

Reason one, according to several polls?  Women tend to be too emotional, and are more likely to be insecure in their leadership role — a view that women and men share equally. There’s also the belief – sometimes called the “Queen Bee Syndrome” – that female bosses are especially tough on female underlings, if only to dispel charges that they may be practicing gender favoritism.  But that means women may struggle for recognition from female bosses even more than men do.

There are some important caveats in these poll findings that may be cause for hope – eventually. For one thing, most workers don’t actually have a gender preference for a boss – or if they do, they’re not admitting it, perhaps because it’s not considered “PC” to prefer a man over a woman for a job. In fact, it’s only among those that do have a preference – about a quarter to a third overall — that favoring a male boss is so pronounced. Moreover, the percentage that favors a male boss has been declining steadily in recent decades, according to most polls, including ones conducted by Gallup, the nation’s leading independent pollster. .

In the late 1970, before the rise of the women’s movement, nearly two-thirds of all workers preferred a male boss, about double the percentage today. But with the huge influx of women into the workforce, and more laws against gender discrimination it seems surprising that some old-fashioned gender biases might remain. The fact is, only a tiny percentage of all survey respondents – just 6% in the most recent survey – would prefer to work for a woman. And the percentage of women who want to work for a woman is actually lower than the percentage of men

It’s as if the women’s movement has barely registered at the workplace, some observers fear. Still, some ardent feminists are pushing back against these findings, saying they simply reflect continued male dominance over the workplace — not an inherent employee aversion to female bosses.

Female employees, they argue, are looking for women with the power to elevate their own careers; while female bosses may have made it to senior management, many of their underlings suspect that they lack the connections and power that men typically have to bring others up the ladder with them.

“People want bosses who can open doors, make connections, offer favors and elevate the status of the people around them,” according to Rosabeth Moss Kanter. “But the jobs women [are] clustered in, even in the C-suite, [aren’t] the ones where they [can] accumulate and exercise [that] power.”

Her solution:  Give women more real power and authority, especially increased control over budgets, and watch respect for them – from both genders — soar.

“Nothing like having to go hat in hand to a woman for a budget overrun to suddenly note all her positive attributes,” she argues.

Perhaps, but other surveys – including one conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2013 — show that women’s workplace antipathy toward other women extends to their preference for men as colleagues, too.

Here again, most poll respondents – a healthy three-quarters — say that they have no strong gender preference. But among those that do, male colleagues are preferred – by men and women alike – by better than 2 to 1. Some observers say this result, too, reflects decades of sexism and female exclusion at the workplace:  Women sense a “scarcity” about opportunities for advancement and prefer to have less competition from other women – and more potentially powerful men to themselves.

Of course, ask any modern professional woman, and she’s likely plotting her advance with the help of other women – as well as men.  It’s not all competition. But if those that do have a strong preference for men dominate perceptions at the workplace, gender equality is not proceeding as fast as it might otherwise.

If so many women don’t trust women in leadership roles – and really don’t want to work with them, either – it’s a lot harder to make a convincing case for pay equity or even sexual harassment policies that might equalize the status of men and women. And it breeds confusion —  an ultimately complacency, even among women — about making real change now

The figures are stark on women’s presence in top leadership roles in business.  In 2016, women occupied just 4% of CEO spots at Fortune 500 companies.  And less than one in five corporate board seats is held by a woman.  Those figures actually represent a slight decline from 2014 and 2015.

With the dawn of the Trump era, there may be even less social pressure to reverse this trend.

The upshot?  Men may have installed that glass ceiling, but if all these polls are accurate, a surprisingly high percentage of women aren’t so anxious to see it removed.

Views expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.