This is actually two blogs this week’s and next week’s but I thought they worked better together.
Dear Mr. Molloy:
My boss called me into his office today and told me I had better change my style of management or I would not get the next promotion which is his job when he leaves.
He said that the executives thought that I played favorites that would create problems for the company if I were managing the entire department. At present, I’m an assistant manager and I have 28 people working for me while I would have 162 people if I became department head.
The only thing I have going for me is my annual and semiannual reviews and the profits I made for the company. I have worked here for 27 years and never had a bad word said in one review including the last six which were written by the man I think is trying to stop me from getting his job. He claimed that women were more likely to play favorites than men, that is pure nonsense I know I don’t play favorites. He said once employees were convinced that their boss was playing favorites they were not willing to sacrifice their time or effort for the company. If that were so I would not be running a very effective section.
I work for a semi-casual company. The executives wear suits all the time and if I were to get that job I would be expected to dress rather formally. At present, every woman in my department wears good quality dress pants and blouses. When we have an important meeting we slip on a jacket. I’ve heard you say that you should dress for the job you want not the job you have. I’m wondering what I should wear to the next meeting of department heads and assistant department heads. It is important because I intend to challenge my male chauvinist boss who is trying to keep me from moving into the executive ranks.
Dear Future Executive:
When I read your letter I recognized one phrase, “they were not willing to sacrifice their time or effort for the company.” I could not lay my hands on a copy of the study but I know it came from a report I was involved in over 20 years ago. A Fortune 500 Corporation received a number of complaints saying that some of their bosses played favorites and one letter said it made it hard for her to work overtime and do extra assignments knowing she would not get the praise that the bosses favorites received.
After they looked into her complaint, they found several women working for the same woman manager had the same complaint. So they called in that manager and talked to her. She claimed she didn’t have favorites but sometimes she praised those who did excellent work. They assigned several researchers to see if the problem was common. They reported that not only was the problem common but 93% of the complaints were made by women and over 71% were made against women executives. After these interviews they concluded once the women employees felt this way it was almost impossible for them to sacrifice for that manager, that department or the company. When the researchers talked to these women executives, they almost universally denied having favorites. These very effective women executives explained they complemented those who worked hard and produced extraordinary results. They also said whether it was true or not it affected the company and the bottom-line and suggested they hire fewer women executives.
It was at this point they hired me to run a focus group with successful women managers. The first thing that surprised me was they were not outraged at the suggestion that women had problems dealing with their female bosses and the second thing was a majority admitted that women were more likely to play favorites than men. That assertion was attacked by two women. Three of those who said that women bosses played favorites backed up their assertion by saying it was
While it is not strictly a woman’s problem it is almost universally women complaining about women bosses.Whether their complaints are based on fact is of little consequence if they believe them
based on personal experience. Each had worked for a woman who had favorites and they were not in the favored group. One left the company where she worked for nine years while the other two arranged to be transferred to different departments. All were convinced if they had not been able to move they never would’ve made it into the executive suite.
When I handed in my report they were very unhappy . They assumed I would give them a report they wanted and for which they were willing to pay big bucks. They told me if I rewrote the report I could name my own price. They told me they wished I had never written my report. I handed them back their check, picked up the report and recommended a research firm who would write anything they wished. There are research firms who make a profit doing just that.
When your letter arrived I realized that the problem still existed and no one had done anything about it, so I decided to give it a shot. I contacted a group of women executives and explained it to them what I was after and asked if their members would be willing to help me try to solve the problem. I had more volunteers than I needed.
My first step was to meet with six women who knew one woman in their department who thought they were playing favorites. They set out to win her over by various methods because they were in different fields. One called the woman and asked if she’d stay late and help her finalize an important report. She said you know men are sloppy and I need a woman for this. Then she gave her the report and went to dinner. When she returned the report had improved, The woman had made copies for each member of the board, put them in nicer folders, increased the size of the type just slightly and made two minor grammatical corrections. The second woman ran an engineering department and her subordinates were mainly men. She told the young woman that she was a gifted mathematician but like most women more careful than men. She then instructed her to take home projects every weekend and check the math. Over the next three weeks she gave her several similar assignments and publicly thanked her for doing them. She did not become a friend she became a fan. The third woman ran an advertising firm and was thinking of firing a woman who worked for her for seven years partially because she constantly complained about not being treated fairly. The agency head gave her one of the largest contracts they had and told her to make a presentation on Monday. She said she expected to fail which would give her an excuse for getting rid of her. The young woman understood that she would be handling one of the firms biggest clients but it had to be ready to go next week. On Monday she gave the best presentation the agency head had ever heard. She did not have to fake a response the young woman was immediately a star in the company and within a year she was a rising star in the industry.
These three plus three more had a positive outcome. The six successes spoke to 20 women who volunteered for our project. The six who had succeeded gave the following advice; work with individuals never with groups, complement them about something they do fairly well, give them real responsibility, insist on top-notch work and complement them publicly when they succeed. Once the session that lasted less than an hour was over we sent them on their way,
Of course, we asked them to report their successes and failures . In the next three months we received dozens of positive reports and a half a dozen negative ones. I don’t know why most succeeded but a few failed but in the future I’ll find out. When I do I’ll report to you.
I can tell you that two thirds of the women managers made friends and in some cases fans by increasing the work load and the expectations of complaining employees. They not only changed their attitude but improved their performance. Several said they thought the experience had made them more thoughtful and better managers. I hope it does the same for you.