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Being the Boss: Strategies for Supervising Male Employees

We previously discussed the issues surrounding attrition of women in STEM. If you are one of those focused, goal-oriented, tenacious women who figure out how to have it all and stay in their STEM field, chances are you are going to rise through the ranks and find yourself in a supervisory capacity at some point. For me, it happened relatively early in my career when I became a project manager and was supervising groups of engineers.


As a female in STEM, you are going to encounter some unique challenges in a leadership role. You are going to be in the minority as a woman and again as a leader, and the majority of the people you will be managing are very likely going to be male.


The first thing to get a handle on is your confidence. If you impressed your bosses enough to be promoted into a management position, you are qualified to monitor the work of all employees, male and female. But staff acceptance of this reality won’t come easy. When I was first promoted, my male colleagues weren’t thrilled with the idea that I was promoted and they weren’t. They didn’t treat me poorly, but I wasn’t shown any additional respect from them either. I tried not to let it bother me, demonstrated a confident, positive attitude, and just did my job.


In a leadership role, you will need to build a supportive team around you. Once you have hired or assembled talented, responsible employees, you will feel supported by them and able to do your job without fighting for credibility. Once you have a good team, foster a team environment to build employees’ confidence, loyalty, and morale. You may want to offer professional development opportunities or team-building days to accomplish that.


Your management style will affect how your staff relates to you as well. Don’t simply mimic a style that was used on you previously. Adopt a style that suits your personality and goals. If you value communication, model excellent communication with your staff. If you have high expectations, make those expectations explicit with each employee. If you want to be respected, show respect first.


Finally, don’t let your new title go to your head. Having a prestigious title does not mean its holder always has all the answers. Never lose your ability to ask questions. There is value to both your employees and your clients in finding accurate information rather than looking like you know what you are talking about. Asking questions does not strip away, but rather adds to, your credibility.


Being a leader presents challenges, whether your team is comprised of mostly males or mostly females. Being confident, having a supportive team, and being true to yourself will go a long way in ensuring a successful tenure in your management career.


Karen Purcell

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