Intimidation OK for men, not women


Professor Higgins had it all wrong in the movie “My Fair Lady” when he asked, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”p. What he should have asked is why can’t a woman be more like a woman—at least when it comes to the workplace, and especially if she wants to move up the career ladder and be better liked by her supervisor.p. That’s the finding of a recent study by Mark C. Bolino, assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. His co-author is William Turnley, associate professor of management at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.p. The research, done in 2000 and published last year, involved a study of 76 administrative and investigative employees—49 women, 27 men and their supervisors—at a law enforcement agency.p. The subject was intimidation.p. How much does acting hard-nosed in the workplace affect your performance reviews, and how well are you then liked by your supervisors?p. Bolino, who has a doctorate in organizational behavior, puts it this way: “For men, it’s good. For women, it’s bad.”p. Though intimidation wasn’t used often, its effect when used varied based on gender, according to the self-reports of the employees surveyed.p. “Men who sometimes used bullying tactics got higher performance appraisals than women who used them,” said Bolino. “As far as likeability, there actually was a slight uptick for men from their supervisors. But women were seen as significantly less likeable.”p. What does this mean for employed women, many of whom have been advised for years to start acting like men—in other words, being just as forceful and unrelenting?p. “If women want to act like men at work, to promote themselves and to be more aggressive, they have to be aware that there are some dangers in doing that,” said Bolino.p. “This study suggests supervisors—and there was no difference between male and female managers in their performance ratings, although a majority of the supervisors was male—expect their employees to behave in ways that are consistent with their gender roles.”p. How then do you explain the fact that a common complaint is that many of the women who reach the top are exactly like their male counterparts?p. “Maybe expectations change when women do move into power roles,” said Bolino. “Perhaps they’re viewed as CEOs first and women second.”p. The study of intimidation also might explain why some women in lower-level management complain they feel alienated, isolated and invisible in a male culture. So it seems women employees still are caught in the tangled web of gender discrimination—and can’t win.p. “In terms of career progress, you may find it dangerous to be yourself if being yourself is at odds with what is considered right for your gender,” said Bolino.p. “And managers also need to ask themselves if they have a tendency to penalize women for behaving aggressively. If they’re aware of this bias, they have to correct themselves and say, wait a second, if this had been a male, would I have felt the same way?”p. The study of arrogance and bullying tactics brings to mind Martha Stewart, who, like many male chief executives, is considered very tough.p. “At least in the court of public opinion, there is a very negative view of Martha Stewart, and part of it is that she does not conform to our expectations of how women should behave,” said Bolino.p. To help women who want to become executives under these circumstances, I have a list of suggestions to make sure no one ever thinks for one moment they have male attributes:p. – Don’t call your supervisors “dearie” or “honey.”p. – Don’t ever tell them not to be so silly when their feelings are hurt.p. – And most important, don’t ask them to get you coffee.

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