Balancing Language as a Female Boss
Of course I will always remember the first time I was called a bitch by an older male employee.
He said it with such hatred and disgust. I was the manager and he was a delivery driver. I asked him why it took it him over an hour for one delivery. At first, he told me I was “out of my depth, sweetheart” and when I told him that I was the one asking the questions, he puffed up like a balloon and called me a stupid bitch. I was 22, he was probably 40 or so. I wanted to crumble. I just screamed at him to leave. And then I could feel the tears welling up. Oh god, please not now. But I held it together and then went in the bathroom and cried my eyes out.
It wasn’t the last time that I would be called a bitch or have a confrontation that left me in the bathroom crying. But I did start to develop my communication skills after that interaction. Some of which now leave me feeling resentful and false. Why can’t I just say what I need to say without digging down into my faux-Southern lady with undying politeness and gratitude?
I am fortunate enough to be in an industry that has the highest percentage of woman managers and owners; 45% of all restaurant managers are female compared to an average of 38% in all other industries. Most male employees that come through my door have likely been managed by a woman in previous employment. I will also say that most males that I have managed are consummate gentlemen and beyond respectful and professional. But now and again I do want to just have the option to manage without having to first slant my speech so not to offend anyone. And this is especially true for guys. Too nice and I’m not respected, too curt and I’m a bitch. My husband is also an owner of the business and I rarely see him struggling to watch his words or mannerisms among any staff. He just says what needs to get done without much thought on how to word it or what the consequences might be. Below are a few examples of how I might rephrase what I need to say:
What I think: “You know those eggs are overdone, remake them.”
What I say: “This plate looks really nice except the eggs are overdone. Can you please refire? Thanks!”
What I think: “How many times do I have to say three tomatoes? THREE TOMATOES!”
What I say: “So that salad has too many tomatoes on it but the presentation is gorgeous. I just need to watch the food costs. Thanks!”
What I think: “You’re being a total dick and it’s making everyone upset.”
What I say: “Is everything ok with you? You seem really on-edge lately. I’m just worried about you.”
Will this change? I think so. I definitely know many female bosses who rule with a strict sense of order regardless of how they are seen. And most women I know love that and respect this style of leadership. My best bosses were strong women who didn’t put up with anyone who wasn’t working hard. I loved knowing where I stood, how I was performing. As more women open up their own businesses and are entrusted in management positions, then we can all demand a little better. We can be easier on those who refuse to sugar-coat and stand up for our female managers who are getting a bad rap for being great leaders.