In the legal industry I hear many stories about female employees who do not have a healthy, professional relationship with their male boss.
“Cruddy, stale, middle-aged men who should have long ago retired” sadly is the resounding theme. Often when hearing such stories reoccurring, frustrations of a refusal to accept change, old-fashioned views, a lack of appreciation about womens’ rights and “the old boys club” mentality are voiced.
It may be surprising to some who know me as an outspoken and unabashed feminist that I work with a male boss and that I not only love to work with him, but we have a relationship of mutual respect, trust and searing honesty.
That’s the thing. Being a feminist does not equate to being a “man hater”. I love men. Unashamedly so. The two main men in my life; my husband and my boss are both glorious, brilliant, kind, generous and hard-working people.
I learn from them and they learn from me. But we all know that this isn’t the case with a large degree of boss/employee relationships; or husband/wife relationships for that matter, particularly with male boss/female employee relationships.
We only have to look to the recent AFL saga and the Seven West Media saga to see that the male boss/female employee relationship is just as unstable as ever.
A brilliant article by Clementine Ford rightly pointed out that while the female employees involved in those matters will likely be tarnished for life, the male bosses will be protected by “the boys club” and their careers will endure.
Time and time again we hear that the male boss/female employee relationship is marred by the female employee being taken advantage of, not necessarily in a sexual way, but by hierarchical, financial and wider discriminatory methods.
Accordingly, people are often intrigued to learn more about the dynamic between my boss and I and why we work so well together. Hence the purpose of this article; to expose the inner workings of our professional relationship and to show what you should expect and indeed demand, from your boss.
I have worked with my boss for 8 years now. I started with him when I was a junior practitioner; somewhat naive, nervous and insecure. It was his first role in a “boss” capacity, so inevitably we both had a lot of learning to do.
Initially I felt that he was too critical of me and that he never praised me for the good work I did. My insecurity led me to needing praise; something that was surprising to me as I had never needed it before.
Eventually I raised this with him, only to discover that his quieter nature meant that he wasn’t used to heaping praise on others. As a result he learned that junior practitioners do need to hear praise as their positions, which are commonly experienced in a vortex of vulnerability, often result in fractured self-esteem. On the other hand, I learnt that not everyone screams their every thought, praise or criticism from the rooftops or has to.
My boss has supported me through two (soon to be three) babies, maternity leave, a Masters Degree and a period of chronic health issues following the birth of my second daughter. And by “support” I mean he has offered me flexibility in my role, has listened wholeheartedly to my worries about particular issues and has forged a relationship with me that is cemented in frankness.
He hasn’t just said he “supports” me in a figurative sense and then doesn’t back it up with practical application. It made it clear to me that a boss’s ability to follow through in a practical way with their word, is imperative to their own success in their role.
Never and I mean never has he raised my gender as an issue, made any “off the cuff” remarks about my dress, appearance, marriage or lifestyle. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for many of my fellow female practitioners across many firms who hear derogatory remarks (always in a surreptitious “roundabout way” of course!) from their male bosses.
In a former role I was once sent home by a male boss to change into a skirt after being chastened for wearing pants and being told that “no woman other than Lindy Powell can wear pants in the courtroom”. I didn’t wear pants to work for 6 years after that.
Importantly, my boss also listens to feedback about what he could do better. This ties back to our early days when I approached him about my then need for more positive feedback. To my surprise he actually took what I said on board. Consequently, on many occasions over the years, I have told my boss where I thought he was incorrect, never with a fear of retribution.
I don’t often encounter people (male or female) in the legal industry who willingly take on board constructive criticism. It seems to be a rarity. An ego issue perhaps?
My boss is always looking for ways to improve and to grow as a Partner and a practitioner. He does not rest on his laurels knowing that he is a Partner and essentially at the top of his game. In my experience this is almost revolutionary. A boss always seems to be comfortable to improve or criticise their employees, but what about themselves? Often they forget about their own self-development in the process, which can be frustrating. Not my boss. He works just as much on self-development as the rest of our team.
Having worked together for a long period of time, my boss and I have seen both the best and worst of each other, which has in effect created a very loyal relationship
His personality and management skills have played an imperative role in the development of that relationship. He is compassionate and kind, thoughtful and interested.
Traditionally, many men would see this as a managerial weakness and as traits that employees may take advantage of. It has the opposite effect on our team. We want to perform under his guidance. We look forward to coming to work every day knowing that we work in a collaborative and friendly atmosphere. Even when the job gets tough, we move through it with increased confidence knowing that rather than cruelly criticise, he helps us to find solutions.
He embraces change and technological advances, meaning that our team is always “ahead of the game” when it comes to productivity and quality. For our team this open invitation of change creates constant excitement and traction.
So yes. I love my boss.
Better yet, I have a boss that I admire and respect. How many people can say that?
As previously stated, being a successful and respected boss does not simply come down to a single factor. It also does not solely rest on gender aspects. It is largely about personal and managerial strengths, which in my experience are so lacking in the legal industry.
For the record my boss is Ryan Thomas, Partner of Family Law at Andersons Solicitors. He has no idea that I’ve penned this article, which in itself speaks volumes about our mutual level of trust.
So Ryan, here is to you and may the future of the legal industry result in more Partners, Managers and CEO’s who embody your strong personal and managerial traits!