The problem in the United States and, to a great extent, around the globe is the socialized belief that being a boss, being in charge, or being the leader means being a man and using a masculine leadership style. Perhaps in a matriarchal society we’d see the boss character as a woman with a more feminine approach.

In fact, it’s a joke at one Colorado office that in order to be a boss, you have to have a mustache. All the members of upper management are portly white men with the same thick, dark mustache. One day, one of the female employees, Anne, went to get her eyebrows waxed. The woman waxing her brows asked if Anne wanted the hair on her upper lip waxed, too.

 “I don’t have any hair up there,” Anne responded, shocked.

 “You do. You have a mustache,” the woman said back.

 “No, I have no hair there,” Anne insisted.

The woman shrugged and applied to wax to Anne’s brow. As she leaned in, her face just inches from Anne’s, she mumbled angrily, “Mustache.”

Anne came to work the next day, and upper management pulled her aside. They offered her a promotion and a salary increase. 

As Anne was sharing the good news with her coworkers, she couldn’t help but wonder facetiously, of course would she have received that great promotion if she had waxed her upper lip?

Of course, it’s not that simple. But it’s true that the skills and behaviors we associate with being a boss or manager are those that we have been socialized to think of as male behaviors. These include perceived behaviors such as being able to make tough decisions, craving more responsibility, not wimping out, taking things at face value, having a sense of humor, knowing how to play the game, being willing to move or relocate, being a problem solver, being aggressive, engaging in competition, displaying knowledge, being powerful, showing motivation, acting logically, thinking analytically, having physical strength, exhibiting ambition, being dominant, staying focused on the job, being well connected, acting like a winner, and seeming controlling, political, and confident.

The male leader’s communication skills follow suit. Men tend to be direct, forceful, and assertive. Male leaders don’t whine, they have a strong, deep voice and speak loudly when needed. The masculine leadership style is authoritative, hierarchical, and structured.

Much research and many articles written during the past 40 years have looked at male and female leaders’ behaviors and management styles. When people describe a successful leader, they often use the same adjectives used to describe a man. Virginia Schein, professor at Gettysburg College, looked at these issues in the mid-1970s. She and her colleagues continued similar research in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, looking from a global perspective at perceptions of men, women, and successful managers in the workplace. In the countries studied, most men viewed men and successful managers as similar. However, women’s results varied by country. Some women viewed men, women, and managers as similar. Women in other countries still viewed men and successful managers as more similar. This is significant for women seeking to add an international assignment to their resume[as].

 Because the business world was generally established by men, the concepts that describe a successful manager are those that describe men and men’s interactions. Women entered the work-world picture late in the game and came into a world already established by men with men’s rules of engagement. For women to succeed, they essentially had to play by the existing rules the men’s rules, also referred to as the “old-boy network.”

Over the years women, have introduced their own style of management. Yet they are often still compared to and judged by the masculine leadership style, which many consider to be the “right style,” the style of a “true” leader. Even as organizations create programs to support and develop women leaders, the stereotypes, expectations, and socialization often get in the way of a woman’s success.

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