Female Boss Archetypes: Are You One of These?

Happy Afro-American businesswoman in a meetingA recent Gallup survey asked random American men and women, 2,059 adults total, if they preferred a male boss over a female. 35% chose to work for a man and 23% said they preferred to work for female supervisors. It was the highest vote ever for female bosses in the history of the Gallup poll. But when asked about why they disliked working for females, the old ugly stenotypes arose.

“It’s an old stereotype that women may not be good bosses so when that happens, it sticks,” said Susan Nierenberg, vice president of global marketing and corporate communications for Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on expanding opportunities for women in business. “Because the stereotype is in the water, and there are fewer women leaders than men, you may remember the woman who treated you badly and say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember her.’ And it reinforces the stereotype.”

Despite your best efforts, you may have fallen into one of the female stereotypes that plague women in power: the Good Mother, the Ice Queen or the Entitlement Culture. The Good Mother creates a nurturing environment where she tries to make everyone feel appreciated and supported. This attitude becomes problematic when too much emotionality is invited into the workplace, and suddenly your job environment becomes a breeding ground for work drama. The Ice Queen avoids emotion and holds her employees at arm’s length. It’s a professional environment, and it’s true that they can avoid excess drama. The problem is that employees feel unappreciated. And then there’s the entitlement culture. A female boss can try so hard to honor the professional and personal needs of her employees that the focus of the company shifts from customers and customer service to the needs of the employees. Suddenly it’s not about the business. Your focus centers on making your people happy, and the company suffers.

Sonya Rhodes, PhD, and Susan Schneider, authors of The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match: How Today’s Strong Women Can Find Love and Happiness Without Settling say that these stereotypes run along the lines of traditional female archetypes. “The female boss can easily fall into the role of the ‘good mother/bad mother.’ The ‘good mother’ is nurturing and protective, giving and tolerant, soft and cozy. Her boundaries are permeable and fuzzy. The ‘bad mother’ is critical and unforgiving, demanding and officious, aloof and icy. Her boundaries are rigid. In both scenarios, the mother is all-powerful. (These paradigms are slightly exaggerated for rhetorical purposes, but they apply more than you may think.)”

In the most balanced scenario, there are elements from all three stereotypes that are incorporated into your management style. What’s important is that you don’t stray too far into one set “type.” Rhodes and Schneider have this to offer as advice for dealing with the pitfalls of the female boss:

“As a boss, you don’t have to be anyone’s mom, but you do have to know what this loaded relationship can bring out in people, including yourself. You may be criticized, whatever you do, but be open to change and flexibility. Having happy employees is a good thing, because people who like their boss will work more productively and creatively. Strive toward becoming a ‘good’ authority figure so that you can be fair: not too ‘nice’ and not too ‘critical’ or blaming — it’s a tough balance, but it’s all a part of the job. Being self-reflective and clarifying expectations is the first big step.”



Dr. Sonya Rhodes, “What Plagues Women Bosses?” Huffington Post. 21 March 2014. Web. 23 March 2014.

Wallace, Kelly. “More People Prefer a Male Boss, but Gender Gap is Narrowing.” CNN. 14 Nov 2013. Web. 23 March 2014.

Welch, Suzy. “When Good Women Make Bad Bosses.” Oprah.com. March 2007. Web. 23 March 2014.