Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cost of Being the Lady Boss

I've held several jobs where I was in a position of authority, but it's been a long time. I miss it. Being in charge was great because I love problem-solving challenges and having the latitude to fix stuff that went wrong. I thrive on planning, organizing and working alone, and I find that people in charge get more opportunities to do those things. Managing other people was only satisfying to the extent that it helped me accomplish my goals. I wasn't a power tripper. I generally aimed to be helpful and fair to those who called me "boss".  

Actually, the "being the boss of other people" part of leadership was the area where I struggled most. I'd get really stressed out when I sensed that employees disliked me or thought I was doing a bad job. I'm (unfortunately) extremely perceptive of other people's disapproval. Last time I was a manager, the palpable disdain I felt from employees and colleagues was so overwhelming I would go home and cry every day for two straight weeks until I decided to quit. Honestly, I wasn't great at that job, but it was also a remarkably hostile environment. Even if I'd had a passion and talent for the work itself, I wouldn't have lasted long. But I was so freaked out by that experience and my withering under pressure, I have not pursued a management position since then. That was over five years ago.

For most of the time between then and now, I figured my problem was that I was too concerned with being popular. I always thought it would be easier to be a guy boss because I wouldn't care so much if my employees liked me or not. But now I'm thinking lady bosses automatically have it harder because we are more apt to be disliked. I've seen the way many of my past and present coworkers have treated their female superiors: the eye rolls, the second-guessing, the extra snarky behind-the-back commentary. It comes from both men and women, I'm sad to say. And while their criticism is sometimes deserved (many bosses, male and female, are incompetent, abusive, and/or lazy), it seems disproportionately directed at women in charge. That bugs me, but at least now I'm able to recognize it as an epidemic.

So, I've decided I'm not going to let those old fears prevent me from pursuing any desirable leadership positions in the future. I can't say that employee sexism won't drive me crazy, that it won't make me angry. It just isn't a strong enough deterrent to keep me from doing work I enjoy. Maybe I've reached a place where I'm just less afraid of being angry.

And all those feelings are the reason why this is one of my favorite scenes from anything ever. This occurs after Liz overhears an employee call her a "cunt". After spending a couple days proving that she can be nice, every staff member leaves work early, and she pulls an all-nighter to pick up their slack. In the midst of her toil, she finds inspiration in a 3:30 am rerun of "Designing Women".

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