Should Women Supervise Men?

Mr. Conners closed the door quietly behind Denise as she entered the room. After a swift glance her direction, Rob shifted in his chair, to squarely face Mr. Conners desk. “Have a seat Denise.”

She settled stiffly in the chair next to Rob.

“Based on what I’ve heard so far, I believe we have a simple communication misfire. It might help if we review your job descriptions. I took the liberty of making copies.” Mr. Conners handed a set of two pages to each Denise and Rob. “Take a few moments and scan the contents for each of you, and then we’ll discuss any areas of confusion. Okay?”

Denise nodded, and assumed from the silence that Rob had shown his agreement as well.

After reading both pages, Denise felt vindicated on her stance. She’d simply asked Rob to do something that fell clearly within his job description. She waited patiently for him to finish, confident he would reach the same conclusion. However, several minutes later, things took an unexpected turn.

Rob hit one the top page with the back of his hand, “I don’t think I should wait for approval from someone who doesn’t know my job.”

“What do you mean,” Mr. Conners leaned forward and steepled his hands underneath his chin.

“This says I need a supervisor’s approval before purchasing parts to fix the machine.” Rob’s facial features snarled, “She’s not qualified to make those decisions. She’s not certified, but I am.”

Denise dug her fingernails into her palms in an attempt to refocus her pounding pulse. She determined to speak slowly, and in a calm demeanor. “I may not be qualified to repair our machines, but I am qualified to gather data to make informed decisions about how money is spent. Twice in the past month you’ve went over budget without consulting me. This document clearly specifies that you are required to get my sign-off before making purchases beyond your spending limit. You blatantly disregarded me when I questioned you about it the first time, and….”

“Now, now,” Mr. Conners interjected. “Let’s not let our emotions get the best of us. Rob, you need to stay within budget, but I think we can redefine your ability to make purchases. Let me think on it a bit, and we’ll revisit the situation later. Why don’t you head back to work, and I’ll discuss a few details with Denise.”

Rob smirked as he got out of his chair.

When the door closed, Mr. Conners smiled at Denise, “I think we can let Rob have this one, don’t you? He knows his job. I’ll personally keep an eye on his expenditures.”

Denise couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She straightened in her chair. “You know this totally undermines my authority, not only with Rob, but the rest of the employees I’m supposed to supervise. I have to ask, would we be having this conversation if I were a man?”

Mr. Conners blushed a deep burgundy. He lowered his eyes to the surface of his desk. “Probably not. But we need Rob, and I can’t afford to let him walk.”

Denise knew there was no going back.


There are many examples of women in roles of leadership throughout the Bible and human history. And just as many examples of insubordination from the men who are called to follow.

In the book of Judges, Deborah took the reins of Israel, because the men weren’t fulfilling their God-ordained role. Queen Esther led the Israelites out of sure annihilation because of foolish decisions made by her king. The Proverbs 31 woman demonstrated entrepreneurial skills while she provided for the welfare of her family. Many New Testament women worked outside the home and directed ministries.

But there are pitfalls women must overcome when they are put in charge. Natural snares make it difficult for women to supervise men. Here are just a few general reasons I’ve seen demonstrated:

  • Women have softer voices — lending to a perception of inferior intellect
  • Many men cannot get beyond the physical differences to focus on what a woman is saying
  • A woman of authority makes a man feel weak — causing a man to lash out in defense
  • Women are not natural fighters, and men need the challenge of conquest, as they do in most areas of their lives
  • Women want to think things through, to consider details, while a man typically plunges in and asks questions later
  • Men don’t like to be questioned by a woman — they expect submission, not a strong stand

These are just a few examples of things I’ve experienced and/or seen in the workplace when a woman is called to supervise men. Though these challenges can be overcome, it takes a lot of energy. Every woman in a position of leadership eventually has to decide if the effort is worth the prickly sting of sharp resistance. Tomorrow, we’ll look at ways to overcome, if you decide to pick your way past the nettles.

If you’re a man who’s been supervised by a woman, what things made it difficult or awkward? If you’re a woman who’s supervised men, how did you overcome challenges?

Anita FreshFaith@ Work

Psalm 57:4 (NIV)

I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.


Anita Agers-Brooks is a Business Coach, Certified Personality Trainer, Communications Specialist, national speaker, and author. She lives in Missouri with her family.

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