Studies show employees prefer male bosses. Here's why this matters.

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Do you prefer working for a man? If asked casually, you’re most likely to deny having a preference either way. But there’s plenty of data to suggest that employees of both genders don’t particularly favor female bosses.

Women CEOs aren’t well-liked. In Glassdoor’s 2016 list of the 50 highest-rated CEOs by employees, only four female executives made the cut. The first woman on the list only appeared at No. 17 (Lynsi Snyder of In-N-Out Burger). Five Seattle-area CEOs made the list, but none were female. Women CEOs in corporate America overall continue to be a rarity: The number of women CEOs in the S&P 500 has actually dropped in recent times, going from 4.8 percent in 2014 to a current level of 4.2 percent, according to Catalyst.

Male employees feel threatened by female leaders. Another study suggests that male employees specifically penalize women in leadership positions. While examining employees simulating negotiating a salary, the study found men who interacted with a female manager pushed for significantly higher salaries compared with male managers ($49,400 versus $42,870.) The researchers concluded that men’s push for higher salaries was in part because they felt threatened by a woman in a powerful position.

Even women prefer male bosses. A survey by Gallup found 33 percent of Americans stated they preferred a male boss, compared with 20 percent stating a preference for a female boss, in a new job. And even though women were more likely to want a female manager, the survey found that even women still preferred a male boss overall.

The reality is that implicit biases about traditional gender norms exist even in modern workplaces. In fact, it’s counterproductive when employees insist that they don’t discriminate leaders by gender. I believe there’s often no malice intended when we decide whom we like to work with. But we are so preconditioned in our ideas of what leadership should look like that we inadvertently end up judging managers differently solely based on their sex.

The Seattle Times Jobs columnist Ruchika Tulshyan. (Courtesy of Jama Abdirahman)
The Seattle Times Jobs columnist Ruchika Tulshyan. (Courtesy of Jama Abdirahman)

I’ve had great and less-likable bosses of both genders. The traits I identified in the leaders I admired the most — decisiveness, willingness to listen and a desire to support my career growth — were the same between men and women. But whether gender expectations determined the extent to which I judged each boss’s competence and supportiveness, I can’t say for sure that I was always completely unbiased. After all, people of both genders generally expect women to be more empathetic and accessible. And that’s where it gets tricky.

There’s a saying that employees quit leaders, not companies. If women bosses are consistently being judged more harshly, it’s crucial for companies to proactively work on correcting sexism, rather than denying it exists altogether.

Ruchika Tulshyan is a journalist, speaker and author. Connect with her on Twitter at @rtulshyan or her website rtulshyan.com.