Agony aunt

June 11, 1999

Q) I was recently appointed the first woman head of our department and am already detecting jealousy among some of my male colleagues. What is the best way to handle the problem without alienating my staff?

Baroness Pauline Perry

Lucy Cavendish College


A) The most useful thing said to me on this subject came just after my first promotion. My boss told me that I would encounter two difficulties. First, I would lose many friends, and second, all those who never had time for me would suddenly seek me out. The only solution is to be even-handed with everyone. A divided office stems from playing favourites.

Try to win respect without necessarily seeking popularity. You will fall flat on your face if you start out trying to be liked. Women find this hard in emotional terms. This is a plus as well as a minus, as an awareness of other people's feelings is a bonus. People appreciate the fact you care.

A fatal mistake is to try to be like a man as you will only be a second-class reproduction. Show you are good at your job and that you make things happen. There will be harsh decisions to be made, but let people see you make them without favouritism.

Anne Wright

Chief executive

University for Industry

A) Management is lonely sometimes, perhaps more so for women. Remember the situation is new for everyone. Communicate your position early so that people understand what you want to achieve, allowing you to establish a working style.

In some ways, being a woman manager is easier because there are fewer received styles of management, so we can choose. Your college should provide you with training and support, which will help you approach your management position.

Team building is just as important so draw people aside and explore their anxieties. Encourage and empower your colleagues so that they make their best contribution, as this can also help to relieve tensions. Talking informally or formally to a mentor or a senior colleague can also be useful. Find a branch of Network and share your problems with other women.

Once a framework of working relationships has been established, problems like this will be easier to overcome. If they do arise, remember that they are not personal or a failure, but are part of a manager's job.

Lorraine Stefani

Senior lecturer Department of academic practice

University of Strathclyde

A) You are not alone. The old attitude that "it should have been one of us, not some mere woman" means that women are made to jump through hoops. We have to challenge this. It is not our abilities that are being questioned, but our gender. This means that it is essential to have a network of women contacts. Many high-profile women can be found networking. It helps you realise that you are not on your own.

The second question is, do you challenge this perceived jealousy head on or do you find different ways of coping with it?

Coping mechanisms might include establishing clear lines of communication. People need to feel a sense of belonging, so make sure you listen to what they have to say.

Women often come to a traditionally male-dominated job with different parameters of management, so departmental strategies and goals need to be established at the start. Show that you are interested in taking the department forward. Make sure your staff come with you. They may not all agree with what you say, but resistances can be broken down by effective communication.

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Write to Alison Utley The THES Admiral House 66-68 East Smithfield London E1 9XY Fax 0113 2502156

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