I was at lunch with a fellow EA a few weeks ago and as usual we were discussing our jobs and having a bit of a grumble about our work. My friend was having a particularly bad time with her boss, who just happened to be female. Their relationship had become so terrible that my friend went so far as to say she “would never work for a woman again”! Coming from a ‘women’s lib’ sort of background I was quite shocked and somewhat disappointed that a woman would say this about another woman. But having conducted a little bit of research on what the differences are between male and female bosses I now see that this question is constantly being asked and the results are fascinating, and especially relevant for Assistants.

According to a recent survey, conducted by professor Felice Batlan, of 142  legal secretaries not one said they would prefer to work for a female partner. In another study by the American Management Association, of those women surveyed, 95% said they had felt undermined by other women during their career.

Having read the various studies online I thought of two things; do the results show that sexism is still widespread in the workplace or do distinct differences between how men and women manage their assistants actually exist? Let’s face it not every female boss is Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada and not every man is the same as Dolly Parton’s sleazy boss in Nine to Five. These are extreme  and stereotypical examples. Nevertheless, I’ve worked for both men and women and there have been differences in their management style… on reflection, here are a  few of my observations

Female Managers:

  • Female managers are more likely to see their assistant as an extension of themselves. This is both in terms of how you present yourself and also the quality of your work.
  • Linking in with the first point, in my experience female bosses take your performance at work personally, if you make mistakes it can sometimes be hard for them to let it go.
  • All of the women I’ve assisted have worked incredibly hard to climb the corporate ladder which is inspiring and very motivational. BUT don’t expect women to always champion other women especially if it is a predominately male culture with few senior roles available to female executives.
  • However, on the whole my female managers have been a lot more interested in my career, job performance and general well being. They are aware that if you have a bad day at work there may be underlying problems at home and will ask you rather than ignore it!
  • All of my female bosses have been great at delegating jobs and responsibilities to me. I’ve found they like to have an assistant and have used my skills effectively.
  • I have never been asked by another women to make her a cup of tea!

Male Managers:

  • I’ve had some very supportive managers that are men and do want to know about your personal life but probably not too much detail!
  • Surprisingly men can get quite emotional at work but will channel their frustrations by quite happily shouting and swearing at you and will not think that this might be offensive or rude.
  •  In my experience men can be quite unorganised but are less likely to admit needing help on the big issues. Instead they will give you small and sometimes insignificant tasks which makes them feel like they are still delegating work.
  • This may be just the industries I’ve worked in but most of my male managers have felt the need to correct my work even if there is nothing wrong with it or is based on a matter of opinion.
  • Men are more likely to praise and reward good work and going beyond what is required of you.
  • Unfortunately men do tend to be more senior and respected in the work place, which does make it easier for assistants  to do their job

Looking back over the years I’ve enjoyed elements of working with all of my managers so I’m not necessarily sure their differences were gender specific or personality driven. At the moment I assist three men and they couldn’t be more different in their approach. I’d love to know your thoughts on this one… I think when all is said and done it is really the luck of the draw if you get along with your boss!

You may also like