Study finds women would rather work for a man than another woman because — women are too emotional

So says, or found, Chicago-Kent Law Professor Felice Batlan who surveyed 142 legal secretaries at larger law firms in 2009, and not one expressed a preference for working for a female attorney.

This accords with what I saw for myself as a partner (now retired) in a law firm. Conflicts between secretaries (who were all women) and women lawyers in the firm were much more prevalent than conflicts with male lawyers. Complaints by attorneys in the firm about their secretaries were higher among the women as well. The firm never officially took notice of this fact, it was just there for everyone to see but no one talked about it.

Forty-seven percent of legal secretary’s in Batlan’s survey expressed no opinion on way or another. But not one of the entire survey preferring to work for another woman is striking. Since this study was limited to law firms and women lawyers, it might not be representative of society at large.  Women lawyers are a self-selected group of women and probably aren’t themselves representative of womanhood in general. If the survey had involved women physicians or small business owners the results could have been different. Also, the study seems to have been taken of Chicago law firms.  Results could have been vastly different if Casper, Wyoming or Duluth, Minnesota law firms had been studied.

Here are some of responses Batlan found:

• “Females are harder on their female assistants, more detail oriented, and they have to try harder to prove themselves, so they put that on you. And they are passive aggressive where a guy will just tell you the task and not get emotionally involved and make it personal.”

• “I just feel that men are a little more flexible and less emotional than women. This could be because the female partners feel more pressure to perform.”

• “Female attorneys have a tendency to downgrade a legal secretary.”

• “I am a female legal secretary, but I avoid working for women because [they are] such a pain in the ass! They are too emotional and demeaning.”

• “Female attorneys are either mean because they’re trying to be like their male counterparts or too nice/too emotional because they can’t handle the stress. Either way, their attitude/lack of maturity somehow involves you being a punching bag.”

• Women lawyers have “an air about them.”

The mother instinct might explain some of the secretaries preference for a male attorney. If so, Men are easier to mother than other women, especially fiercely independent women lawyers. Here is what one of Batlan’s respondents said:

“My partner in particular tends to forget the little things. I often find myself tailing him as he’s walking out the door to a meeting going down a list of things he may need. Oddly, I don’t feel like my female attorneys need that kind of attention.”

Maybe this is just a phenomenon of the self-selected personality types that go to law school and become lawyers. But notice that the number one reason women secretaries prefer a male boss is that women are said to be too emotional. That’s not a trait just of women lawyers. If it were not true that women’s emotions are more complex the “male and female control panel” wouldn’t be as funny:

male-female control panel
The male part of the control panel is just an on/off switch.

I have two cats, brother and sister.  The female fusses about everything all the time.  The male just eats, sleeps and stares out the window.

  • Ken Spiker

    My wife is a lawyer and she’s always complained about women bosses. She reports (as you note above) that they are narcissistic, emotionally unstable and demeaning, if not actually nutso. I think this is a problem with women in positions of authority, they lack a certain awareness of some of the basic rules of human interaction. Men are aware that there are certain lines you don’t cross–a sense of honor if you will. Though much diminished, the idea of honor is still alive in guys’ unconscious. Rivals and even enemies deserve a certain degree of deference, if not respect. Most women don’t understand that, for them there are no boundaries. Perhaps it’s because being (physically) the weaker sex, they have to be able to fight without reservation for their young. This lack of restraint may be an advantage in the jungle, but in the business world it undermines the glue that makes for civil interaction.

  • I think you’re onto something regarding boundaries. Men are constantly being reminded, even threatened, about crossing boundaries. Sexual harassment claims are a hanging sword. Women can get away with things that would hurt a man’s career, or at least ruin his day, month or year.

    There’s also the Queen Bee Syndrome — women in a position of authority treating subordinate women harshly.

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