Women make wonderful bosses. We should know—between the two of us we have more than 30 years of experience in the publishing business and have reported exclusively to women. In our observations, female bosses often become more mentors than managers, nurturing the careers of those who report to them more than their male counterparts. Working for women can be amazing and inspiring.
But (and you knew there was a "but" coming), many female bosses are neither inspiring nor amazing. Many are frustrating, competitive, petty and bitchy. When we asked members of our personal book club—all women in publishing—if they enjoyed working for women, one of them shook her head and said, "I just wish I didn't have to pretend to be her friend." This led to much discussion about the good, bad and ugly of this female-heavy world. After informally polling acquaintances in the industry, we have compiled a list what women in the publishing business wish female bosses—including their own—knew.
'I Am Not Your Friend'
It's normal for you to create a sense of intimacy and positive rapport with your female subordinates. After all, you're working closely for long hours in a highly stressful environment. But don't mistake this relationship for friendship. Yes, it is great that you both loved Brokeback Mountain, are disappointed in James Frey and are counting down the days until summer Fridays begin again. This doesn't mean that you are friends. You are the boss and she reports to you, so please respect that and don't ask her to go to the movies with you on a Saturday night.
'My Voice Counts'
Unfortunately, even in our female-heavy publishing environment sexism exists: men get heard more often than women. Even at junior levels, the men in the room seem to be treated as though they have the more relevant comment, point of view or idea. Please, ladies-who-lead, support the sisters. Listen to everyone; don't pause just because you hear a male voice. Know that the women have something of equal value to contribute and give them the floor.
Is this a strictly gender-based issue? Of course not. But whether it's motivated by insecurity or a hyper sense of devotion to detail, many of the women bosses we and our informal focus group have worked for have a tendency to micromanage. Nothing—and we mean nothing—is more debilitating than someone who doesn't trust you to get the job done. Looking over their shoulder, checking the to-do lists and questioning decisions creates uninspired and resentful employees who have zero ownership (and waning interest) over their own work.
'Tell Me What You Want'
It was common among the women we interviewed that female bosses tend to be vague about what they need from their employees, phrasing requests as questions. "Do you think you could write that catalogue copy this week?" or "What do you think about going to BEA this year?" instead of "I need that catalogue copy by next Monday" and "I need you to go to BEA." You are the boss, so own it and tell her what you want her to do.
'Let Me Get Credit for My Work'
As a junior in publishing it is very hard to be recognized by both the senior executives and the authors. No one wants to hear that it was the fresh-faced assistant in the publicity department who just booked the new author on the Today show. Senior management pays the experienced publicists more money just because they can secure that type of booking, and the last thing an author wants is to think that her campaign is being handled by a junior person. So the senior publicist, thrilled to share good news, passes it along... as her own, turning what was once a young-and-eager new employee into an unhappy one who spends her day scouring PW for new employment.