Studies About Female Bosses

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In my Sunday paper I found two news shorts about studies having to do with female bosses.

One was originally in the Minneapolis Star Tribune as follows:

“Female managers are substantially more likely to be targets of sexual harassment than women who have no supervisory responsibilities, according to a study by sociologists at the University of Minnesota. Nearly half of the female managers covered in the study reported harassment in the workplace, compared with 30 percent of other female workers.

“The study’s authors said the findings indicate that sexual harassment is about control, rather than sexual desire. ‘Male co-workers, clients and supervisors seem to be using harassment as an equalizer against women in power, ‘ said Heather McLaughlin, a university sociologist and lead investigator in the study.

“McLaughlin and colleagues Christopher Uggen of the U of M and Amy Blackstone of the University of Maine also said that workers who are perceived to be ‘non-heterosexual’ were nearly twice as likely to experience harassment than others.”

My first reaction to this story was that so many women reported sexual harassment, managers and non-managers alike. 30-50 percent! Then I found a March 26, 2009 press release from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reporting that the Star Tribune settled a sexual harassment suit on the behalf of female workers for over $300,000.  Small change perhaps when you consider the number of women involved (any woman who worked in the mail room at the Heritage Production Facility between August 2005 and the present).

This is indicative of the disconnect that exists between public recognition and private perpetuation of the problem. The Star Tribune is happy to report on a study about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace but conveniently neglects to admit to its own failure to provide a harassment-free work environment. (Not that I really expected it to.)

The second news short had to do with financial risk-taking. A new [unnamed] study suggests that “women with higher testosterone levels seem to be more like men in taking financial risks. Long associated with competitiveness, the hormone usually occurs at higher levels in men. The study examined more than 500 male and female MBA students and found that relative testosterone levels, rather than gender, seem to affect financial risk-taking.

“It also found that married people have less of the hormone than single people do.” [From unspecified wire reports.]

I love the throwaway observations at the end of both these news shorts: Non-heterosexual-seeming females are more likely to be sexually harassed and single people have higher levels of testosterone than do married people. These both seem to relate to homosexual behaviors. Might we then conclude that single women with high-testosterone levels are going to be perceived as non-feminine, and thus non-hetereosexual? If they are also in positions of power, that’s a double whammy. They might have what it takes to be managers and risk-takers, but they’re more likely to be single and seen as masculine, either in appearance or in behavior (or both).

I don’t think it’s the masculine appearance and behavior that bothers men in power, though. At least they can pigeonhole women who are more “like men.” They have more trouble with women who “act like women” but don’t fit traditional womanly roles. This drives men in power crazy. They don’t know how to fight women like that.

Except through sexual harassment?

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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