• July 2010

Power In The Workplace: Is It Business—Or Is It Personal?

By Paige Rhodes
Chief Executive Officer of the Washington, DC Recruiting Firm
Rhodes & Weinstock

Our great grandmothers couldn’t vote, and their mothers couldn’t open up a bank account on their own. Yet today women make up 51% of working professionals. Nonetheless, studies show that women still get less respect in the workplace — especially those in leadership roles.

So here’s my question: Is power positional or personal?

Think about the different bosses you’ve had over the years and ask yourself this telling question: Is this person someone that you would trust if your airplane crashed and you were both stranded on a deserted island?

Before you answer, consider the data from a recent Gallup poll:

  • 34% of men polled said they prefer to have a male boss
  • 10% of men polled said they prefer a female boss.
  • 40% of women polled said they prefer to work for a male boss.
  • 26% of women said they prefer a female boss.
  • The remaining respondents of both genders said they had no preference.

Even less formal polls show that when given a choice, both men and women said they’d rather work for a man.

In fact, a recent Forbes Facebook poll showed that women overwhelmingly prefer men as bosses. Why? Here are some ideas:

“Women have been evil bosses to me in the past.”

“Women can be conniving and backstabbing while giving you the nice-nasty smile.”

“I absolutely prefer to work for a man, and I speak from personal experience. The women I’ve worked for, with only one exception, tended to feel threatened by me, whereas men were better mentors.”

What do women bring to the table?

I recently interviewed Sue Pope, who spent 20 years working in the brokerage industry — a field that was, at the time, almost completely dominated by men.

When Sue was promoted to branch manager at a well known national brokerage firm in 1996, she was the only female manager in the state of Florida. Sue still recalls the meeting she had with her male boss when he informed her of the promotion. He said, “As a woman, I don’t think you’re strong enough to handle the Branch Manager position, but I’m going to give it to you anyway and watch you fail.”

Not only did Sue thrive in the position, but she also made lifelong friends in the process. In fact, she still keeps in touch with many of the employees whose careers she helped develop over the years.

I asked Sue how, as a woman, she was able to maintain her power in a leadership role. She said: “I supported my sales reps as long as they did the right thing. I was their boss, but I always had their best interest at heart.” Sue said she even fired a male client who had an account worth $2 million, because he wanted her to fire one of her trusted employees in order to keep his business.

What is the most important quality in a leader?

Irene Rosenfeld, the CEO of Kraft, was interviewed by Forbes magazine and asked “What is the most important quality in a leader?”

Her response: “Servant leadership is the most important aspect of a successful leader—the recognition that I am here to help the organization accomplish its objectives rather than they are here to meet my needs. Once you recognize that, you are able to engage the hearts and minds of your followers, and they are able to just deliver the kind of results that you are looking for.”

Sue’s take on her situation in the investment world was similar. She knew that to be successful and to gain power, she had to fit into her environment and not expect the environment to change for her.

She decided not to dye her hair, as it went prematurely grey at the young age of 35, because she felt that the grey hair made her look older and more experienced. How many women could make that choice?

Sue also chose to be a full-time career woman, who didn’t have kids of her own — mostly because she didn’t want to lose time or experience to her male counterparts while she was off on maternity leave or working limited hours while raising a family.

“The investment world is a competitive environment, as are most high power positions,” she told me. “You can’t take time off and expect the people you leave behind working in the trenches to pull you up to where you would have been had you not taken the time off. Those people have passed you and they aren’t looking back.”

Reality Check

Currently, almost half of the people who take the GMAT are women. And last year, 44% of the MBA grads were women.

However, a 2010 report by the Center for Work-Life Policy showed that 31% of women voluntarily left the workforce in 2009 compared with 16% of men.

Warren Farrell, the author of Why Men Earn More and The Male Power Myth, came up with 25 reasons why men advance further than women. Among them, men are more willing to put in longer hours, travel more, and relocate — and women are 50 times more likely to stay home with children than men are. However, Farrell predicts that in the future women will gain ground on men, because men are increasingly becoming more involved in their lives outside of work.

The Employment Policy Foundation notes that women who have never married are far more likely to out-earn men, showing that lifestyle choices, more than gender, are the determining factor in obtaining wealth and power.

Beyond the Gender Issue

Whether you work for a male or female boss, here are some tips on gaining power:

  • Learn your job and do it well. Credibility in the workplace will earn you respect.
  • Understand where your boss is coming from. If you are speaking your boss’s language, he/she will be more receptive to your ideas and suggestions.
  • When in doubt about an assigned project, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make sure you get clear instructions and deadlines.
  • Pick your battles wisely. Know when to fight for something you believe in and when to walk away.
  • Work through issues constructively – whining will get you nowhere. Come up with a viable solution and then present the problem and the potential solution to your boss at the same time.
  • Act decisively. Make the hard choices and stick to your guns. Power is not wishy-washy.
  • When you get your shot at taking control, step up. Power is usually something that is taken not given.

The Bottom Line

If you have the personality to be a leader and you work hard, you can be successful and powerful — regardless of your gender or background. Harness your power!

About Paige Rhodes

Prior to co-founding Rhodes & Weinstock in 2009, Paige Rhodes spent more than 15 years in staffing, human resources and law firm management.

Throughout her career, she has gained an intricate knowledge of the temporary, temp-to-hire and direct placement services. In addition to her staffing industry experience, Paige has also spent several years in human resources, and as an HR manager at two large law firms in the DC metropolitan area.

The combination of in-house and outplacement recruiting experience gives her a unique understanding of the hiring needs and concerns of her clients, from large multinational corporations to small start-ups.

Paige prides herself on developing long-term relationships with her candidates and clients. She believes superior customer service and honesty are the cornerstones of a successful business relationship. Paige is a member of the American Staffing Association and the National Association of Women Business Owners. She is a graduate of the University of Florida and a proud Gator!

Click here to learn more about Rhodes & Weinstock. Contact Paige at prhodes@r-wgroup.com.