Breaking through “the glass ceiling” and reaching positions of authority has proven a frustratingly-long struggle for many female professionals. For women in particular, however, the stresses associated with attaining a management-level position in a company are compounded by the additional problems of being treated appropriately by subordinates of both genders (and, it should be noted, female subordinates often complain that female superiors are especially hard on them). In a way, the age of the internet and electronic written communications has made the female supervisor’s job easier by allowing for the construction of a “paper trail” documenting communications between supervisor and subordinates. While written communications were always an option, the expediency associated with the use of email has made such processes much easier, although much harder to erase should that be desired.
Frustrations stemming from dysfunctional management-employee relations are common irrespective of gender. While a female supervisor may have it worse than a male colleague, the basic dynamics are largely the same. One necessary step is the convening of a meeting between management and employees, during which time both sides are free to convey their concerns or grievances without fear of retribution. Very often, problems in the workplace – or in any other organization – have their origins in poor communications, ironic given the ease with which we can communicate with each other. A staff meeting can be a useful forum for the airing of grievances, as everyone can hear for themselves the respective positions of the two (or more) sides to a dispute. While some differences simply defy resolution, open channels of communication are an essential starting point.
Assuming that the supervisor is conducting herself appropriately – in effect, without discriminating against any employees, recommending promotions, raises and bonuses based upon objective criteria, etc. – it may be the case that certain individual employees need to be fired. The need to pay mortgages, buy food, clothe children, etc., are strong motivators for disgruntled employees to get their act together and do their jobs as expected. Failing that, they should be removed from their positions. That is a part of life, and every employee knows it.
Depending upon the “rank” of the supervisor (in effect, middle management, president or vice president of the company), it may be appropriate for the supervisor to communicate up the chain-of-command so that higher-level officials are cognizant of the problems down below – a measure that should only be taken as a last resort, as the perception among higher-level officials within the company that the supervisor is incapable of exercising authority, fairly or not, may take hold and damage that supervisor’s credibility. If the cause of dissension among employees is directly related to decisions made at those higher levels, however, such individuals have to be informed. If the core of the problem between supervisor and subordinates is based on the former’s gender, than it is imperative that the upper echelon officials are aware of the situation and support the supervisor in taking those steps deemed necessary to correct the situation, including terminating offenders.
Management is not just a job title; it is a position for which certain skills are required. Among those skills is the ability to ensure that all subordinates are performing their jobs at the requisite level of competency. This skill goes beyond merely be assigned to a supervisory level position. Communications skills are essential, as is maintenance of a constant state of awareness regarding the social dynamics that may be in play within the organization. This is why promotion of anyone, regardless of gender, to a position of management should be based upon both experience and temperament.