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Lead Your Team Managing

Do Women Hold Other Women to Higher Standards at Work?

Do Women Hold Other Women to Higher Standards at Work?
Credit: Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Women who work for female bosses expect more from those leaders than they do when working for a man, new research suggests.

The Massey University in New Zealand study found that women expect a higher degree of emotional understanding and support from female bosses than they do from men.

Initially, Jane Hurst, the study's author and a Massey University Ph.D. graduate, said she found no differences in what women expected from female and male bosses.

"At first they said there was no difference – I think we are all led to believe that everyone is treated equally," Hurst said in a statement. "But when I began scratching beneath the surface, it became apparent that they did expect their female managers to be more aware of the complexities of their lives and to offer more flexibility to accommodate those complexities."

Having to live up to a higher standard than men puts women managers in an unfair situation, according to the research. [Take charge! How women can get ahead in the workplace]

"If women managers aren't focused on relationship building, it can be seen very negatively by their female staff," Hurst said. "If male bosses are, they exceed our expectations; if they aren’t, they’re just acting how we expect them to."

These negative experiences with female bosses can eventually hurt a woman's overall career trajectory.

"In my study, when this happened, most left their jobs and took either a backwards or sideways career step," Hurst said. "Many also had their confidence dented."

Hurst said her research shows that employers and employees are best served by being aware of the expectations they hold and whether those beliefs are realistic. She said those expectations affect relationships and can lead to misunderstandings.

"This level of self-awareness can only occur if there is an environment where women are encouraged to communicate," Hurst said. "There also needs to be a trusted mechanism that provides staff with advice when there is conflict, someone to talk to without it becoming part of a formal process."

Employers can also help women bosses by giving them greater influence on policies and structures related to work-life balance for female employees.

"It's not going to have much impact if women in senior positions just have to abide by policies that don’t support their female staff," Hurst said.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.