Official: women are top bosses

Female managers really are better at their jobs, as the largest ever study shows.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
WOMEN ARE supposed to hate them and men feel intimidated by them, yet the biggest ever survey of female bosses has discovered that they are, by a long chalk, far better at their jobs than their male counterparts.

Not only are they more sympathetic and caring towards their staff, they also emerge as clear winners in the supposedly "male" skills of planning and teamwork. And when it comes to difficult technical tasks they usually outshine men.

The differences between the sexes has emerged after a five-year study of 2,500 managers from 450 firms across the United States.

Men come off very badly. Many male bosses were rated by their staff, of both sexes, to be "self-obsessed" and "autocratic". A frighteningly high proportion had the personal skills of Robert Maxwell and the leadership qualities of Michael Foot.

Dr Larry Pfaff, the male head of Pfaff human resources consultancy in Michigan, said yesterday that his survey showed men had a long way to go before they could catch up with women. ''Female managers - as rated by their bosses, themselves and the people who work for them - were rated significantly better than their male counterparts.

''This difference extends beyond the 'softer' skills such as communication, feedback and empowerment to such areas as decisiveness, planning and setting standards.

''Employees rated female managers higher than male managers in 17 of the 20 skill areas assessed, 15 at a statistically significant level. Men and women tied in the other three areas. Bosses rated female managers higher than their male managers in 16 of the 20 skill areas.''

Dr Pfaff claimed the research killed the conventional wisdom that women executives were either good at the "soft skills", like making staff feel wanted, or "bosses from hell" who took on all the worst features of bullying male managers.

The reality is they outshine men in most areas. They plan better, can handle the technical aspects of the job more convincingly, and leave men standing when it comes to teamwork and communicating with staff.

Yesterday female management experts resisted the temptation to say "told you so". Marilyn Davidson, acclaimed author of numerous books on women in management and professor of managerial psychology at Manchester School of Management, said she was "delighted" by the findings.

''This is very heartening because, particularly in the UK, the attitude towards female managers has tended to be negative. In the research we have done previously we have discovered that when people thought 'managers' they thought 'male'.

''We also discovered that the majority of male managers we have spoken to are quite apprehensive about working for a female boss. I really welcome this change in attitudes.

''Unless we get more women in senior executive positions it is going to be difficult to change attitudes. I'm afraid the glass ceiling is still very much a factor in Britain.''

Until then, female appointments such as the legendary City "superwoman" Nicola Horlick, fellow fund manager Carol Galley of Mercury Asset Management, Pearson chief executive Marjorie Scardino and British Airways high-flyer Barbara Cassani will remain exceptions rather than the norm.

Professor Davidson said half her students were female, but many hit a glass ceiling at middle management level.

''Many of them have better degrees but they continually hit barriers. They earn less than their male counterparts. It is very unfair.''

But Elaine Davidson, a legal secretary working for a large London firm, said: ''I have encountered working for both sexes and to be truthful I think I prefer working for men.

''They're much more sympathetic over 'women's problems' such as PMT and are quite prepared to give you the afternoon off - they just don't want the details."

Sir Bernard Ingham, press secretary to Margaret Thatcher during her years in Downing Street, said there were three qualities needed to be a good boss. ''You need someone who knows what they're doing, someone who is extremely organised, decisive and not temperamental. Thank God Mrs Thatcher had these qualities.

''You can't really generalise too much. I've had some good male bosses and others who were positively disorganised. I would have no reservations working for a woman again unless she was useless, but I'd have the same concerns if I was working for a useless man.''

When Kathryn Dowse became Britain's youngest ever bank manager at 21 there were celebratory headlines in the local media. But five months later disgruntled bank clerk Andrew Gilbert was on his way to an industrial tribunal because of her ''overbearing, snobbish and sexist'' attitude.

The Midland Bank was found guilty of sex discrimination and Mr Gilbert was awarded pounds 4,721 compensation.


aged 42

Former national newspaper journalist and executive, and now head of news and media for the Conservative Party, she is the the original "killer bimbo" with big lipstick. But is said to disarm even her critics. Bossy enough to get Ffion Hague to wear "joke" necklace in shape of euro. Ms Platell says: "They may boo me in but they always cheer me out."


aged 44

Secretary who made "rags to riches" climb to become highest-paid chief executive at Californian computer-makers Hewlett Packard. Seen as an inspirational leader who helps motivate her staff with human touches such as get well cards and thank you notes.


aged 39

American chief executive of British Airways' new cut-price Go airline and the only female boss in the field. Says she "discussed it with my husband for all of five seconds" before deciding to climb on board the loss-making venture 18 months ago. Advocates a "sleeves rolled up" style of leadership, mucking in with colleagues when needed. Said to be a candidate for the top job at BA itself, currently held by a man.


aged 52

Former chief executive of The Economist, now boss of media giant Pearson. Gritty American "good ol' girl" known as the Texas Titan. Likes to quote General MacArthur: "Have a good plan. Execute it violently. Do it today." She says of herself: "I'm a warrior."


Exception to the rule. In her 1994 film Disclosure femme fatale Moore portrayed the archetypal bad-woman boss rising to the top of her male- dominated computer firm and seducing her junior colleague, the happily married Michael Douglas. It's bad news for

Michael when she lays

false charges against him.


aged 50

Known as the "Ice Maiden" for her cool, ruthless behaviour, she is said to strike terror into those who fail to meet her exacting standards. Along with her business partners, has just sold Mercury Asset Management to Merrill Lynch for pounds 3.1bn and now heads a team managing pounds 250bn.


aged 37

The joint MD of SG Asset Management, she recently reinforced reputation as City superwoman when her fund management firm topped performance tables. First rose to fame amid media storm when suspended by finance house Morgan Grenfell. Said to have huge appetite for action but works family-friendly hours. Happy to joust with senior executives, showing steely edge in a fight.