When I was but a young pup in the working world, fresh out of college with no concrete plans but about $85,000 worth of post-secondary book smarts, my church offered me a super-duper entry-level job working in their cultural center. The pay might as well have been lint, but it was an opportunity to acclimate myself to “the real world” after four years of worrying about little more than writing papers on Shakespeare and speculating when the Ques and Kappas were going to have probates in the quad. My boss was my pastor’s sister, a very tall, very statuesque, proudly Afrocentric woman with blonde dreadlocks and a demeanor that commanded—shoot, insisted on—respect. I knew just from seeing her around church that she was not the one to be messed with and I was so thankful to have a job (which got my mother off my back), I surely wasn’t planning on being the one to give her any kind of intentional grief.

In retrospect, I don’t even think I made minimum wage after all was said and done, but I worked that position like I was pulling in a six-figure salary with an expense account. I called publishing companies and hustled up books to create a library. I forged and nurtured partnerships with other community-based groups. I set up tours, cold-called folks to collect African-American heirlooms and spent more time combing through dark, dusty archives for research than any reasonably sociable person should. Naturally, the harder I worked, the more demands she placed on me—and the less I could meet her very specific, very lofty expectations. I was always coming up short some kind of way, even though I turned every kind of hustle my little 21-year-old creative mind could conjure to grow the organization and get its name out there. For the last few months before she canned me (hallelujah), she rode me harder than a half-witted camel in the hot desert sun.

That was just the first in a long string of horror stories and plain ol’ nightmarish experiences with female bosses. After the run-in with the Black Brunhilda and a follow-up with a Nigerian dictatress at another job, I wondered, for a fleeting, scary space of time, if it was just sisters that I couldn’t peaceably operate under. Black women have a reputation for being incredibly hard on one another, particularly when they can flex the muscle of a fancy job title to do it. It was a stereotype I never bought into, but I could definitely see where the concept got its root. While my friends with male supervisors got mentorship and professional development, I got around-the-way girl attitude and, following sound scoldings for any perceived mistake, the ubiquitous silent treatment.

But honey child, when I got a taste of white woman tyranny, I really got my tail smacked up, flipped and rubbed down. My first boss following my relocation to Washington, DC was hell bent, fire baptized determined to wear me down. She was emotional. She was compulsive. She was pre-menopausal, beyond melodramatic and moody for days. I could fill up three pages with the shenanigans she pulled just to make my job as hard as her life was. She was every part the reason why men say women shouldn’t be in charge. More than once I caught her in her office following a department meeting, eyes swollen, red and puffy, face the shade of a corny Christmas sweater. But she also inspired the entrepreneur in me to become the one lady—what looks like the only lady—I knew I could work for.

Being a woman—and a business woman at that—I don’t subscribe to the idea that all ladies in positions of power are unreasonable, erratic and overdemanding. Just the ones I’ve had. And to their point, sometimes I can’t knock them, even if I was the bullseye at the receiving end of their obnoxiousness. Women have to wear a dozen masks to appease a dozen different kinds of folks with a dozen different expectations. On demand, we’re expected to be rational and strategic but nurturing and comforting, attractive and approachable without coming off easy or overtly sexual, smart and on point without being pretentious or—God forbid—condescending to any fragile male ego. It’s no wonder homegirl was in her office sobbing her woes into a box of Kleenex. Is it harder to work for a woman than a man? Maybe. I know it was for me. But I also know I’ve been taking copious notes so that if and when I ever have a staff (if I ever want one), I can remind myself that there’s very little glory to being a pitbull in a skirt.

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  • “She was every part the reason why men say women shouldn’t be in charge.”

    You couldn’t have said it better. Do some female supervisors have bad attitudes? Of course, but so do men. Are women supervisors under more scrutiny? I think so. Should she be able to communicate properly without getting flustered or malicious? Most definitely! A few times I wanted to give my female supervisor a good tongue lashing because she could not communicate her expectations, but then I remembered there is never a good reason to disrespect or belittle an employee.

  • el

    A flip side to what I experienced from my last job was an AA supervisor that favored the white workers over the AA’s workers. She was so “old school” with the white is right attitude. However, when work problems would arise she would come to the AA’s for assistance.

    In a one on one meeting I tactfully pointed this out and hoped for an attempt towards meaningful change-but that didn’t happen. However; the last week before the department was closed she admitted to me that she appreciated my honesty. It was sad and I felt a wasted opportunity that she was unable to change.

    I truly think that she wanted to change but her attitude was so ingrained she was unable to process a change.

  • Nadine

    I am a woman…and a feminist, but I have to tell you…women bosses are on some real nonsense.

    Those, in my case, white women bosses (never had a black one) are HYSTERICAL (and I don’t mean funny).

    They are HEAVY on exaggeration (okay…straight lying), ESPECIALLY when it makes another person look bad or when they are TRYING TO COVER THEIR ASSES (can you say brothers lynched)… they have FITS, like children…screaming, crying IN THE OFFICE (total PMS or the big M)… they reward BAD behaviours from their chosen white female ingenues who remind the “superiors” of themselves when they were their age.

    Not only is lying is an excepted part of their personal and professional strategy, but heaven help you if you’re not “down” or eager to keep their lies alive…

    THEY ARE ALSO SASSY – Hello! … rolling their eyes, making little sounds or faces when other people are talking…

    Look, women have special skills and attributes that work best with the rearing of children (e.g. sensitivity to facial expressions, super sonic hearing and multi-tasking), but some of those same attributes in the workplace, apparently, create an infantilizing atmosphere and lower productivity than their more team-orientated male counterparts.

    Give me a dude any day…

    • kenniefromtheblock


  • Laura

    Maybe it depends on what industry you are in. possibly more ambitious people who are in industries with “prestige” causes woman to be lousier managers because the satakes are higher? in the fast food industry when i was a teen i had many very excellent female and male managers. i had a female boss in a med school who was quite good and i have many male bosses in media work in higher ed that are nice unless you mess up and cause social embarrassment and then they get angry. male bosses are generally slopper when it comes to details and follow-up here in this one company (higher ed). my husband has had female bosses in the graphic art world that have sounded like the women in this article. i am a mellow boss myself and i would consider it a complete failure if i took my moods out on my employees.

  • women bosses can be a handful, especially for men. Yet there is hope, there are rules and guidelines that can help both men and women work better with thier female supervisors. Here is a link if you are interested in learning more