• I’ve had straight-talking female bosses I would have crossed hot coals for and moody male bosses I avoided, and vice versa. (Getty Images )
There is one phrase that I’ve heard spoken by female acquaintances and colleagues, both within the workforce and in casual settings, that annoy and confound me above all others.
By
Johanna Leggatt

9 Feb 2018 - 11:20 AM  UPDATED 9 Feb 2018 - 1:53 PM

COMMENT

There are certain statements that make your heart sink. “We’re going to have to replace the entire computer.” “There are no returns on this item.” Or anything involving the words “Uber" and “surge pricing”.

But there is one phrase that I’ve heard spoken by female acquaintances and colleagues, both within the workforce and in casual settings, that annoy and confound me above all others.

And it’s this: “I just get on better with men.”

I’ve heard women say it in response to conflicts in the office, as well as during dinner table conversations and drinks at the pub. I’ve heard it for a good two decades of my adult life from women climbing the career ladder, as well as stay-at-home mums.

 In my experience, the women who make these claims are communicating something quite different from an abiding and deeply felt kinship with men.

Women workers often state it as a way of dismissing another women’s concerns. It’s a method of getting ahead by trouncing on the perceived weakness of their female co-workers, while marking themselves out as separate.

In my experience, the women who make these claims are communicating something quite different from an abiding and deeply felt kinship with men.

Perhaps it’s a reaction to how they were treated by girls at high school, an experience that shocked them into a wariness towards their own sex. Or maybe it’s an unconscious response to the favouritism their father displayed towards one of their sisters. Womanhood is complicated and hard, they seem to be saying, and it’s easier to align myself with men.

Granted, politician Jacqui Lambie is not a great barometer of the national sentiment, but she too doesn’t seem to think much of women, and by extension herself, telling an ABC TV comedy show that the reason women didn’t like her as much as male voters was “because women are bitches”.

During my stint as a section editor overseas, I routinely clashed with the female manager. Clashes or differences of opinion in newsrooms were usually no big deal, but this was next level. She would routinely hold back information that prevented me from doing my job properly and would undermine me with bosses and colleagues in meetings.

One day I confronted her, asking outright what her problem really was. I thought she would obfuscate, or make something up, but to my surprise she looked at me squarely and said, “I don’t know, I just prefer working with men.”

Womanhood is complicated and hard, they seem to be saying, and it’s easier to align myself with men.

My personal response to this kind of thinking has been to over-state the value of female bosses, imbuing them with a kind of preternatural aptitude that no mortal could possibly possess.

It’s not an entirely unreasonable reaction. Women have been held back from assuming positions of authority in male-dominated industries for so long that the natural feminist response is to  redress the imbalance by championing women’s strengths with what appears to be disproportionate enthusiasm.

But this I also know to be true: no gender has a monopoly on being good to work with.

I’ve had straight-talking female bosses I would have crossed hot coals for and moody male bosses I avoided, and vice versa.

I also know that there are lots of workplaces where being a woman remains a distinct disadvantage and that women need to look out for one another.

Plenty of women already do this, of course, including myself and close female friends. They look for opportunities to include other women socially and in the workplace, to support them if they are victims of workplace harassment or sexism.

So are things slowly changing? Recent statistics seem to indicate so.

According to Gallup poll findings, US workers no longer prefer a male boss over a female boss, for the first time since 1953.

For the past 64 years, Gallup has asked Americans, “If you were taking a new job and had your choice of a boss, would you prefer to work for a man or a woman?”

The good news is that some 55 per cent of Americans said their boss' gender make no difference  —up from 46 per cent in 2014.

This is all heartening stuff, but until I’m no longer routinely told in pubs and at dinners, by a female acquaintance or a colleague, that women are bitchy and moody and, gee, men are so much easier to deal with, then we still have a long way to go.

Don’t forget either: 45 per cent of US workers still openly admit to gender being an issue with their boss.  So let’s not pop the champagne just yet.

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