Women Supervisors Are Not More ‘Female-Friendly’

Study finds that a person’s attitude, not gender, better predicts whether they will support women at work.
Women Supervisors Are Not More ‘Female-Friendly’

ARE WOMEN SUPERVISORS more likely to help the women who work under them than their male counterparts are? Maybe not, according to Steven Bednar, associate professor of economics at Elon University in North Carolina, and Dora Gicheva, assistant professor of economics at the Bryan School of Business at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. In fact, the pair finds that a supervisor’s gender may be unrelated to whether he or she is likely to help women in the workforce—a trait the researchers call “supervisor female-friendliness.”

“We were intrigued by the lack of unequivocal evidence that female workers do better (or worse) under a female boss and wanted to explore further if a female mentor is associated with better outcomes for females in the workplace,” says Gicheva.

Bednar and Gicheva tracked the identities and performance records of athletic directors and coaching staff across all six women’s sports at NCAA Division I schools over a 12-year period. They found that when female-friendly athletic directors hired female coaches, their teams’ performance improved even though these directors were less likely to dismiss female coaches for poor performance. However, female athletic directors were no more likely to be female-friendly than their male counterparts.

The researchers surmise that it’s a supervisor’s attitude, not gender, that makes the difference for both women and minorities in the workplace. “Some supervisors are better at mentoring minorities,” says Gicheva. “It’s important to identify these mentors and give them opportunities to support lower-level workers.”

“Career Implications of Having a Female-Friendly Supervisor” first appeared online April 6, 2017, in the Industrial and Labor Relations Review.