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The successful woman supervisor: climbing from strengths.

Even though she was chosen from the ranks of better technologists, she's not sure about moving up to supervisor.

She was working at the bench and her promotion just seemed to happen. It worries her: How can management be so certain she's cut out for the job?

She can relax. As a woman, she already possesses some key skills that will enable her to be an effective supervisor. All she needs to do is unlearn some negative attitudes that are also part of a woman's baggage and concentrate on acquiring a few "masculine" skills. Then she can look forward to a successful supervisory career.

Generally, women come to a supervisor's position strong in interpersonal skills but weak in organizational abilities. Much of this is due to training and conditioning from childhood on.

Most women looking back on their first 20 years of life see that well-meaning parents and teachers taught them to be passive an dependent. Researchers cite sex biased instructional methods eve in today's classrooms. Though the bias is generally unintentional and unconscious, the result is that boys are taught differently from girls. For example, teachers call on boys in class more often than girls, especially in "masculine" subjects such as math and science.

Boys consequently take a more active part in learning than girls. Or, to put it another way, girls learn that they are different from boys and more limited in what they can do in life. Such "little ladies" training breeds dependency, inflexibility, noncompetitiveness, and feelings of inadequacy.

No wonder women arrive at the managerial level with a different mind-set from men. When the competent female bench technologist is propelled into the supervisor's slot, she fears not being able to handle the job. The transition from technologist to supervisor is a challenging career step for both sexes, but particularly stressful for many women.

Yet the very same childhood preconditioning that causes women to feel inadequate also equips them with essential skills to meet supervisory challenges. These skills include the ability to listen, to care, and to empathize. They inspire confidence when the supervisor meets with the staff, assigns work, or counsels troubled employees.

Listening skills help a supervisor as communicator for the organization. Getting the message across is only half the job of communicating. The other half involves receiving information. In many organizations, the higher the position, the more time spent listening. It is estimated that as much as 80 per cent of an executive's workload may consist of hearing what others have to say.

It is important that these skills not be abandoned when a woman moves into management. Very often, they are put aside because women are unsure of themselves and reluctant to behave as they did before for fear of looking foolish. Indeed, women often react strongly in the opposite way and appear rough, tough, mean, and bossy. This is the witch behavior that educator and management author Margaret Hennig says many executive women are accused of.

There are some negative female characteristics that may block the way to success at management: not being a team player, not being savvy about organizational power, and not taking criticism well.

Awareness of team dynamics and organizational structure can add immeasurably to the feminine skills of caring and empathy and fortify the woman supervisor. With this "corporate" acumen, she knows just how much authority to use and when.

Women supervisors seem to struggle with teamwork because they have not been conditioned to team play in early childhood. Little boys learn to play together even if they do not like one another. At an early age, they know it takes eight others to make a baseball team. In the business world, author Anne Jardim says, this is called "corporate manners." Women don't usually understand how men who dislike each other can be very polite and attentive to one another in a meeting.

Through their Little League type of team playing, boys develop a style that is both cooperative and competitive. They seek to excel while working together.

An organization such as a hospital depends on team dynamics-common goals, mutual respect, working together, exchanging ideas, individual responsibility, and complementary skills. Therefore, a supervisor who is a good team player faces little questioning of her authority.

A female supervisor unaccustomed to team dynamics can begin by promoting teamwork through weekly staff meetings. Sharing ideas and problems identifies common goals. Quite often, just asking employees the question "Whose team are you on?" goes a long way toward determining a group's identity and the supervisor's position.

Another drawback for some women is their discomfort within the organizational power structure. Many women haven't learned how to work in this atmosphere, but it's important to be attuned to organizational dynamics. Supervisory effectiveness is enhanced by knowing who is in power and who can get things done. The novice female supervisor, uninitiated in the ins and outs of the power hierarchy, is well advised to seek a mentor within the organization to help guide her.

One final negative quality that can hamper many women is their sensitivity to criticism-often to the extent of crying. A promising way of dealing with this, demonstrated at management seminars for women, is called "fogging." Women are taught to reply to criticism in a manner that is like throwing a rock through a fog bank-it passes through without ricocheting. To a statement like "As usual, you have too much makeup on today," the fogging reply would be, "You're right. I have my usual amount of makeup today." Fogging ignores the thrust of the critical comment and undercuts the intent.

When management elevates a woman technologist to supervisor, it is confident that she is equal to the task. She should take heart from that. She owns several important supervisory skills and can acquire the rest without too much difficulty.

Suggested reading:

Hennig, M., and Jardim, A. "The Managerial Woman." New York, Doubleday/Anchor, 1981.

Zimbardo, P.A. "Shyness What It Is, What to Do About It." Reading Mass, Addison-Wesley, 1977
COPYRIGHT 1988 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kupniewski, Dorothy A.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Feb 1, 1988
Words:1000
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