Women do the work, but don't wear the trousers

Our labour force is increasingly female, yet men dominate the top jobs, reports Glenda Cooper
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The Independent Online
Half of women now have female bosses, but only 10 per cent of men do, according to Social Trends, the "biography of the nation" published last week by the Office for National Statistics.

Over the next 10 years the labour force is predicted to rise by 1.4 million, of which 1 million will be female. But the statistics are not the success story for women they might appear.

The difference between the number of men and women with female bosses shows how many women are still in junior positions, according to Dr Paul Taffinder, a chartered psychologist. "There are more women in supervisory positions rather than managerial," he said.

"It is a success story in that there are now more women in junior management jobs, but this is still a damning indictment that few women are reaching senior management level."

Dr Taffinder's opinion is backed up by statistics from the 1995 Labour Force Survey, which found half the female workforce were in clerical, secretarial, sales and personal service jobs compared with only 16 per cent of employed men.

Two thirds of managers and administrators are men, and 84 per cent of part-time workers are female. Women are still only paid 79 per cent of men's hourly earnings.

Dr Terry Kellard, an organisational psychologist with Warwick Consultants Ltd, said there had been enormous change in the workforce in the last 20 years but more was needed.

"Business is still regarded as a macho world," he said. "If you look at it there is still resistance to having a woman boss but it has gone underground so it is more covert and unconscious.

"Women still meet with resistance, " added Dr Kellard. "I think it was once said that women have to be twice as good as men in organisations to make half the distance, but fortunately that isn't difficult."

He says that the resistance manifests itself in the way women are treated according to sexual stereotypes. "If you get a female sales manager, the salesman may comment that she is using her sexuality to influence. The woman is not actually doing that. Men are constantly misinterpreting these signals.

"Women react to women very positively and there is little acrimony unless the boss is incompetent. Men have an adaptation process to go through when they go into work. In a sexual relationship the stereotype is that the man takes the initiative while women manipulate. When a woman is the boss, men cannot take the initiative and this often takes adjustment."

Kate Blumenthal, financial controller of one of the largest chartered surveying firms, has 12 people working directly for her. She says that she has no problem managing either sex, and feels women bosses are often more successful. "I think female bosses are more understanding, for example if someone is ill or needs a chat they will be more willing to listen."

She admits that she does react differently to her male employees. "I am tempted to be girly because it works. I don't flirt particularly, but you can get more done by putting on a girly act."

Dr Kellard feels women can help themselves. "Women can best combat resistance by carrying on doing things as they do them now. We have found that a powerful woman is actually more influential than men.

"They are what we call 'dominant' people - alpha males or alpha females. Alpha females are often better managing organisations because they are more socialised. They are better at manipulating in a covert way. Men tell, women influence."

But Ms Blumenthal feels the problems can be blown out of proportion: "I have worked for women and men and I don't think that's the issue. I think it's how you get on with the individual. I know that sounds very politically correct, but it's true."

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