The myth of the bitchy female boss

Journalist Colette Sexton on why we need to applaud female bosses instead of judging them.

Fancy working hard, climbing the ladder, and then getting called a bitch for the rest of your working life? I thought not, but unfortunately that is the reality for many women in senior positions across business, politics and in the community.

Women who do their jobs well and get promoted to managerial level often have to deal with an societal unconscious bias which will see them described as bitchy and bossy. It is a nightmare, and treading that line between being a pushover and being a “bitch” is a minefield.

Instead of being applauded as a high-achievers when they encourage others and take charge, women are often subject to abuse.

A study by Sarah Andrews, entitled 'Women Are Bitches, Men Are Leaders: How Men And Women Varied In Legislative Effectiveness In The 2014 Colorado State Legislature', found that while women are just as effective legislators as men, they are not seen as such.

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“While men dominate the political scene, women are fighting for a seat at the table. Additionally, when women are elected into public office they are branded as bitchy, regardless of how effective they are at the job,” Sarah said, in her study.

One of the female legislators responding to the study said: “Behaviour in a man that is admired; oh he’s really proactive, she’s a bitch or he really gets after it, well she is out to get all of these people, and she’s a ball-breaker.”

Bitchy and emotional

More than half of small business owners had heard female bosses referredWhat to do when your boss is a bully to as “bitchy” and “emotional” compared to just one in eight male counterparts, a UK government survey in 2015 found. Less than a quarter of men had been described as “bossy” compared to almost 40 per cent of women.

With this kind of negativity awaiting many women as they get to the top, many simply decide not to bother, or decide against sticking with a management role in the long term. It is hard not to blame them, when even their own gender is against them.   

While both genders prefer a male boss, according to 2013 Gallup study more women (39 per cent) have this preference than men (26 per cent). This is incredibly frustrating. As women, this is something we need to be conscious of. If we have desires to climb to the top of the ladder, but we judge women in more senior roles to us as “bitchy” we are, in fact, just making it tougher for ourselves in the long run. The next time you find yourself about to use the word “bitchy” or “bossy” to describe a female manager, ask yourself if you would feel the same way with a male manager. The best way to beat this unconscious bias is to be aware of it and check yourself.


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