Who Make Better Bosses -- Men or Women?

A new survey shows women scoring better than men in leadership traits.

ByABC News
September 3, 2008, 4:26 PM

Sept. 4, 2008 — -- It's official. We can finally lay to rest that tired old stereotype of female bosses as manipulative, back-stabbing you-know-whats and get on with our lives.

Last week, the Pew Research Center published findings from a survey it conducted on gender and leadership. The 2,250 U.S. adults who responded rated men and women on eight leadership traits -- honesty, intelligence, compassion and the like.

In five of the eight categories, respondents said women blew men out of the water. In another two -- "hardworking" and "ambitious" -- respondents had women and men tied. In fact, according to those survey respondents, men only came out on top in the decisiveness department.

But that's not all. When asked flat out whether women or men make better leaders, 69 percent of respondents called it a draw.

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Still, one survey does not a populationwide attitude shift make; most of us know people who favor working for one gender over another. And if you don't, the Pew Research Center is happy to remind you that 21 percent of its survey respondents said that men make better leaders (compared with the 6 percent who said that women do).

Your Nature Had Better Nurture

Maybe one in five Americans told Pew they can't get behind a female leader because they can't get past that She-Devil in the Corner Office stereotype. Maybe they think women managers are emotional train wrecks waiting to happen. Or maybe it's because, when push comes to shove, what some workers really want is their mommy.

A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology in 2007 found that women managers who were better at picking up on their subordinates' nonverbal emotional cues and doling out empathy accordingly scored brownie points with their underlings, while women managers without those sensibilities were judged harshly.

Respondents didn't praise or penalize male managers based on whether they picked up on those unspoken emotional cues though. In other words, we squawk if women managers aren't empathetic, but because we don't hold men up to the same emotional standard, male managers can get away with being emotionally, well, unintelligent.

"Being a female leader comes with a cost," said Kristin Byron, the assistant professor of management at Syracuse University who conducted the study. "Research that looks at female leaders suggests again and again that you can't just be a woman. People really believe that leadership characteristics are masculine. But how can a woman be a leader but not be too masculine? Women are really stuck saying, 'How do you navigate that?'"

Right or wrong, women get held up to a different standard, she said, a standard that expects them to blend the right amount of "female" and "male" attributes.