Not everyone has had the advantage of working under both men and women. Given the pro-male bias that persists in hiring and promotion, many have worked predominantly for male supervisors, and have had to learn the rules of engagement accordingly. When such a person finds him/herself working for a woman, there can be a confusing period of uncertainty. Do I relate to this person in the same way? If not, what are the differences?
My own approach evolved to a relatively easy consistency. Treat the person with respect (even at those times when you think they don't deserve it), do your work efficiently and well, earn their trust. There's no need in my universe for second-guessing based on gender. There are, of course, legitimate tactics one can adopt to enhance one's position. For instance, everyone loves to feel appreciated and knowledgeable. So ask their advice about something, even if you have a hunch about the answer. So long as you're sincere and not obviously fawning for approval, most people enjoy giving advice or sharing their understanding of a problem.
Even for a supervisor who gives every appearance of being a total ass, it still serves your purpose to remain emotionally neutral, do your work, and only make waves if you feel you are being mistreated. In that situation, carefully follow policy regarding protest and appeal. As you do, document everything and try to have witnesses to corroborate your position. Hopefully it won't come to that.
So what do you think? Is it different working for a man than it is for a woman? Probably so. But should the subordinate employee behave any differently? That depends. Susannah Breslin in her brief Forbes article How to Work For a Female Boss has several suggestions, all of which make sense.
- Let her wear the pants. The reality is that she's in a position of influence over you. Get used to it, and think about whether any ill feelings that come up might be your issue, not hers.
- Don't be her BFF. This is directed at female employees. It's a mistake to think that in the spirit of sisterhood, you'll become Best Friends Forever with your supervisor. She's your boss, not your buddy. Keep it professional.
- Play to her weaknesses. There's nothing predatory in this suggestion. The reality is that even supervisors have areas of greater or lesser competence. If you are able to unobtrusively fill in the gaps in her abilities, your standing will rise, as will your chances of promotion. Workplace 101.
It seems to me that Breslin's advice should apply to a supervisor of either gender, for an employee of either gender. But that's in an ideal world. In our world, gender politics get in the way all the time. Don't get sucked into them. When in doubt, I adopt the carefully neutral mindset of Spock from Star Trek ~ rationality with a touch of compassion (and a dash of appropriate humor) go a long way toward making each day at work .... workable.