In S&P 500 companies women make up 45% of employees, but only 37% of midlevel managers. This number continues to shrink as you work your way up the food chain, with women making up only 27% of senior-level bosses and only 6% of CEOs. This discrepancy in leadership has huge implications for women who do climb the corporate ladder. Take for example Jane Fraser, who will be taking over Citigroup in February of 2021, she will be the first woman to lead a major Wall Street Bank.
The question arises, with so few women in corporate power positions, how will employees react and treat their new female boss? Negatively, according to a study by Martin Abel.
For his study, Abel hired 2,700 workers online to transcribe receipts and randomly assigned them a traditionally male or female named manager. Workers, regardless of their gender, reported a larger drop in job satisfaction when criticized by a female than a male boss. Further, employees who had been criticized by a female boss were disinterested in working for the company for the future. The study showed workers subconsciously associated men with careers and women with families.
Interestingly, these findings held regardless of an employee’s former experience with a female boss. Even workers who stated that they had previously had a highly effective female supervisor, were just as likely to bristle at criticism from a female boss.
Yet, perhaps female bosses are more effective. In this study, workers spent more time reading and thinking about feedback from female managers. Not only are women making up a smaller portion of management, but they are also more qualified. Women have overtaken men in educational attainment, and they typically score higher on leadership competency tests.
Luckily, this issue may be a generational one. Negative reactions to criticism from female bosses are much lower among younger workers. It completely disappears when looking at workers in their 20s.
To combat this issue in the meantime, some companies are employing “Feedback coaches” to help workers understand the content of their feedback, rather than focusing on who is providing it. After all, feedback should be the same whether it comes from Samuel or Samantha.