Saturday, 25 July 2009

Is it better to work for a man or a woman?

My husband is a big Formula One fan. So it was no surprise that he hogged the TV when I came back from the weekly shopping earlier today to watch the Qualifying in Hungary. All my pleas to change the channel were sadly (and unsurprisingly) in vain and – as I didn’t fancy doing anything but sitting on the couch and recovering from a long week at work – I didn’t have much choice than to listen.

However, no other than David Coulthard got me to pick up my laptop and to write my first blog entry for my new blog “The Real Office Life”. How did he do that? Well, he went into one of the garages and asked one of the female race engineers: “How do your male colleagues like working for a woman?”

I was surprised that he’d ask such a question on public TV. Strictly speaking this comment could be regarded as discriminating against women in management positions, even though I am aware it wasn’t meant that way and rather referred to the fact, that motor sport is still at large a man’s world. However, it sparked an interested discussion with my husband, who waved my surprise aside and said that he wouldn’t necessarily want to work for a woman neither.

Now, I am a manager myself and believe that I am doing a good job, am liked by my staff, am fair, supportive and achieve what my department is challenged with. So it took me by surprise that we still have the discussion in 2009 if women are any good in management positions.

So my question for today is: “Is it better to work for a man or a woman?”

I am not taking myself as a manager into consideration here as I don’t think you can really judge yourself objectively. But let me have a look back at my career so far.

I actually remember my first job working for a woman. If you want the truth – I hated it. She was one of those iron women, determined to make it in a men’s world. She worked extremely hard – and expected the same from her junior staff. She was tough – much tougher than her male colleagues – and you always had the feeling that she tried to make people forget that she was a woman. As if it was a sin to be a woman in a business world. She was under a huge amount of pressure and always tried to perform better than her male colleagues – I never found out if she actually had to work harder to prove that she had a right to be in her position as a woman, or if she just imagined it. But what I do know is that it was very difficult to work for her, that she was overly demanding, often bitchy, didn’t accept any weaknesses or emotions and that I left the business thinking I’d never want to work for a woman again.

By chance my next boss was a man who was a fantastic manager. He was demanding, but he felt comfortable in his own skin. He knew he was given the managerial position because of his ability, his drive and his experience. He had the same expectations of his male and female staff and developed each and every employee to their best abilities. He didn’t need to constantly prove that he had a right to be a manager, that he was good enough. All he had to do is to work hard, do what he was recruited for, get the best out of his team and continue to develop his own career. It was pleasure working for him and in my mind, that had settled the argument: Working for a man is so much better. Women are just too bitchy and try to fight each other rather than working together. Needless to say, I didn’t look at what that would mean for me if I’d ever be a manager myself!

But I soon learned that life isn’t always so easy. Throughout my career, I worked for men who were selfish, took your achievements for their own and were impossible to please. I also worked for women who were excellent managers, found the right balance between being a hard-nosed business woman and a natural woman with emotional intelligence, who were supportive and achieved all business challenges they were set.

Were does that leave me now? Would I rather work for a man or for a woman? The answer to this question is not as difficult as you might think. I don’t really care, if I work for a man or a woman. All I want is to work for a good manager.

A manager who can balance emotional intelligence and business demands; has the required skills and experience; knows how to work with people, how to develop them, support them and get the best out of them; someone who can be understanding, but also tough when required to achieve the best for the team and who is fair.

That sounds very demanding to you? Well, I believe it is what makes a good manager. It is what I always strive for, the kind of manager I try to become over the years. The kind of manager who can be a man or a woman and both male and female staff are not bothered by either, just because it doesn’t matter if they report into a man or woman because they couldn’t ask for a better leader.

That doesn’t mean that life is fair. It doesn’t mean that women don’t still have to prove themselves over and over again for the right to play with the top guys, to be in the boardroom. It doesn’t mean that woman earn as much as man (in managerial positions or anywhere else). But it does mean that we need to step away for making our own judgement if someone is likely to be a good boss or not based on their gender. How else can we ever change any of the above?

Here are a few links to the topic, if you want to read more:

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