Rebecca Vineyard
Updated August 04, 2015 5:55 am

While there are still plenty of obstacles to female leadership in business, female supervisors and managers are becoming ever more commonplace. As this happens, office dynamics shift and men find themselves reporting to women in higher positions more and more frequently. So, how are the men responding to these gender shifts? Or more specifically, how do men respond reporting to a female boss?

Recent research conducted by scientists at universities in Italy and the United States provides some thought-provoking insights. The research, which consisted of three studies, set out to investigate how males in the workplace respond to females in positions of power. According to the Huffington Post, the first study was made up of male and female participants given the scenario of corresponding via computer messaging with a hiring manager at a new job to determine their salary, which they could counteroffer up to five times.

Here’s where it gets really interesting: The participants were split into two groups; one was told their hiring manager was named Sarah, while the other group was told the manager with whom they were negotiating was named David. After the initial exercise, all participants completed another gauging how threatened they felt by their respective hiring manager.

Results showed that, while the gender of the hiring manager didn’t influence women’s likelihood to feel threatened or to counteroffer, men who corresponded with Sarah did feel more threatened than those who did so with David. Those men were also more likely to combat this feeling by making very assertive counteroffers.

In the second study, male participants were asked to imagine that they were splitting a bonus with either a male, or female, counterpart, or a male, or female, supervisor. Each had to choose how much of the bonus they believed they deserved, and how much they would give to their colleague; however, they completed the exercise from the first study gauging how threatened they felt before doing so. Unsurprisingly, men with a male supervisor were more likely to offer that supervisor more of the bonus than those with a female supervisor, who typically gave that supervisor half of the money while keeping half for themselves.

Things got even more intriguing in a third study, which asked male and female participants to complete the same actions as the second, but with one important difference: Everyone had a team leader who was either male or female, and described as either “ambitious” or “administrative.”

In all the studies, men were more likely to feel threatened by women in positions of power; in the third study, they were also far more likely to feel threatened and take a bigger cut of the bonus if their female team leader was described as “ambitious” rather than “administrative.”

Men’s need to assert themselves in response to a powerful female presence is, according to the researchers, common behavior for those trying to preserve their masculinity. While this is sadly unsurprising, as female supervisors become more prevalent at a certain point their male subordinates will have to start playing nice or face the threat of losing their jobs to the ever-widening pool of qualified female candidates — so even with this new research, we’d still say that things are looking up for women in the workplace.

[Image via Shutterstock]