Here’s what male bosses really think about managing female employees

By Alex Laughlin

In Pay Up, we hear from a lot of women about the challenges they face in the tech industry, but we talk so much to other women that we got to wondering — what do our male bosses think about us? Do they know the issues we face? Do they see us the same way we see ourselves? To find out, we devised a questionnaire and sent it out to our male bosses and friends.

“They tend to share secrets amongst themselves more often, which is fine,” said one. [It IS fine!]

“In meetings, much of the conversation is dominated by males (even if the ratio is even in terms of attendance),” said another. [You noticed that too, huh?]

Fourteen perspectives, from various parts of the tech sector — startups, international corporations, the tech departments of non-tech companies — and what we learned is that, among this bunch anyway, there is quite a lot of recognition that pay equity matters, and that they as managers have a role to play in creating it. But there is less awareness of the unconscious biases that may subtly play into creating wage inequalities and inequality of opportunity for women in the industry.

In order to protect their privacy and encourage honest answers, we told respondents their submissions would remain anonymous.

Pay equity matters to male bosses

Of the fourteen men we heard from, the vast majority said they feel a responsibility to correct the gender wage gap. And most seemingly felt good about their progress — almost every one of them said they don’t see a wage gap based on gender on their teams.

“I have already addressed any wage gap issues and given raises to anyone who was not paid equally,” one respondent said.

What kinds of actions do they see as important to correcting the gender wage gap? Many focused on ensuring everyone is paid fairly according to their position and talent.

“Hire based on talent,” said one. “The pay scale should only be based on that. It’s my responsibility as a manager to be fair across the board. The gender doesn’t matter.”

“I’m making sure that the employee we hire is getting the salary he or she deserves based on his or her knowledge level, regardless their gender.”

That same man continued to say, “It’s also important that women and men with the same knowledge level must be able to take the same positions at the company, and have the same career opportunities.”

He was one a smaller number mentioned approaches beyond equalizing salaries. One said he helps women and underrepresented minorities during the recruiting process with knowledge, data and tactics for salary negotiations. Another said that women in his company are clustered in the lower-paying jobs like customer support, so he actively recruits women for the higher-paying positions in programming.

“There are so few people, let alone females, with the necessary mix of technical and client-facing skills that we need. I am constantly trying to find women and minorities to add to my team that is disproportionately white and male. When I do find them compensation is usually not a question because the unicorns that I need can easily demand market-competitive salaries and I’m happy to pay them to get their skills.”

They see differences in behavior

When asked whether they notice any behaviors in themselves that might give preference to one gender over others, nearly all of the respondents said they didn’t.

“As I am an engineer, I have no preference over a male or female colleague’s work, because all that matters is their knowledge and experience level.”

At the same time, a large majority said they do notice differences in how men and women behave in the workplace — and most of the female-specific behaviors were described negatively.

“Males are more outgoing, not afraid to speak up. Females are generally more hesitant to do that.”

“Women often use lots of qualifiers and tend to speak with a bit more trepidation than men.”

The main positive described was that women are “less likely to be a — holes.” But the inverse behaviors — politeness, timidity — are what the men pointed to as attributes that hold women back.

“Males tend to interrupt females more often than vice versa.”

Our respondent men noticed women whose careers have been negatively affected by these stereotypically female behaviors (“…being afraid to leave the company and try her hand elsewhere. She could probably command a larger salary elsewhere.”), and also those who have been penalized for the opposite:

“Personally, I’m one of the more assertive and direct people in the world, and yet I’ve never been given performance feedback that has held me back in this way, however this woman was viewed negatively by peers for being too harsh or strong willed, when I was viewed as being ‘thorough and thoughtful.’”

How do you detect bias in yourself?

“In terms of promotions/reviews, there’s much to be said about how biases manifest into negatively affecting women and [underrepresented minorities],” said one respondent. “Some of this can be helped through systemic training about unconscious bias and some of it can be helped through processes that ensure promotions/pay raises have checks and balances.”

Most of the men we heard from focused on equalizing pay among people in the same jobs, but fewer talked about how the culture in their industry or male perceptions of female behaviors might contribute to women missing out on opportunities for advancement.

None of them work for companies where they reported women make up more than 50 percent of the leadership.

One respondent told a story about a woman who wanted to pursue advancement in a skills-based job, but:

“…was actively encouraged to move into management (not what she wanted) because she was ‘kind and had good people skills.’ This is bad for two reasons: 1) the perception that kind/good people skills make a great manager, and 2) more importantly, she expressed a clear desire for career growth in one area, but that wasn’t accommodated by her manager, and instead he pushed her down a path she didn’t want to go.”

Our small sample of men represents an aware crowd — overwhelmingly aware that a pay gap exists, both for women and other underrepresented groups, aware that they have an ability and responsibility to affect it, and even aware of situations in which women have been unfairly held back by others. And yet not totally aware of how their own perceptions of female-specific behaviors might play a role.

But many of our men seemed aware of a perhaps equally important thing — that they can’t see all the ways in which they might not be aware.

As one of them asked, “How do you detect bias in yourself?”


Pay Up is a private, Slack-based community dedicated to fostering conversations about the gender wage gap. It was formerly managed by the Washington Post.

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