Do Bosses Get the Benefit of the Doubt? Not Female Managers

What makes you excited to go to work every day? It’s probably a lot of things, but your boss is a big piece of it. The gender of your boss could be playing a role, too.

Researcher Maria Triana of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Wisconsin School of Business and her team studied a female-dominated hospital staff in Turkey to learn about the employees’ commitment to their workplace and discovered something interesting—and unsettling.

Female Managers pbs rewiredEven in a female-dominated workplace, male supervisors who were less qualified than their subordinates were still ranked highly by them in terms of the commitment to the workplace they inspired. More highly, in fact, than the female supervisors who had more work experience than the people they were managing and were more qualified. These highly qualified managers were ranked lower, even, than female managers who weren’t as qualified.

In this Turkish hospital, the most qualified women inspired the least loyalty from the employees, both to the manager herself and the good of the organization as a whole.

What about the U.S.?

In a female-dominated workplace in the U.S., however, female supervisors were ranked well. As long as their qualifications were impeccable, that is.

They needed to be head and shoulders above the people they were supervising in every way in order to be looked upon favorably, the researchers found. If there was any doubt at all about a female supervisor’s skills, employees were quick to distance themselves from the supervisor and the organization.

Female Managers pbs rewiredThis level of scrutiny aimed at female supervisors bolsters the theory that women in a workplace must be many times more talented, hardworking and experienced than their male counterparts to be taken as seriously as them, Triana wrote.

“Males as the dominant group are given the benefit of the doubt,” she wrote. “It’s essentially a double standard; individuals in the prevailing group are given greater latitude before they are called on their mistakes or before their knowledge and authority are questioned. Their degree of failure and incompetence has to be greater before that person is penalized.”

The takeaway? It might be 2017, but workplace discrimination is still alive and well, even when we don’t know we’re doing it. Triana called on companies to actively work against implicit bias—subconscious prejudices we all carry—within their staffs.

What implicit biases do you hold? Take this quiz from Harvard University to find out.

Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.