Posted by: amandadegs | March 21, 2018

Retail Leadership

The ratio of male to female retail workers is fairly equal across the globe. I have worked in retail since sophomore year of high school, and I have experienced major differences from being managed by men and being managed by women. While being managed by males, I did not feel confident or comfortable. This could have been due to my young age and little prior retail experience, but I believe it mostly had to do with the leadership style they exerted. The managers were all male, and the sales associates were all female. While I worked here for about a year, I experienced a very strict work environment with high competition and many orders given. We would only receive hours to work if we met our sales goals for the week. We used walkie-talkies, so there were often direct orders of tasks for the associates to do for the managers. Along with direct orders and aggressive competition, the males treated the females as incompetent and did not allow room for improvement. Instead of teaching a better way to do something, the managers would just take over. There were also problems with management having inappropriate behaviors and conversations at work. I did not enjoy working there due to the male leadership style, and luckily the company went out of business, so I got to experience working with female management in my next retail store.

I work at Justice, which is comprised of only female workers at my location because we only sell young girls’ clothing. This factors into the way the managers interact with the sales representatives. I have noticed the managers being more lenient with deadlines and more collaborative as a team. Oftentimes, our focus as a team is on the customers and completing tasks as a whole store. Before agreeing to a task, there is a conversation and explanation for what is expected. Every day the store has a goal to reach, but we work together to achieve the goal. There isn’t just pressure on the managers or just on the representatives to gain the sales. Through this more feminine way of leading, I feel that I have experienced valuable growth as a person and as a worker. By emphasizing the importance of creating friendly relationships with coworkers and customers, I recognize my potential as an employee to make a difference for other people.

I wanted to provide context on what I have experienced prior to explaining the situation that occurred at Justice this past weekend. A customer was not satisfied with the answer my manager provided, so the customer proceeded to ask, “Can I talk to the manager?” My manager replied calmly explained that she is the manager of the store. The customer snapped and said, “There isn’t a man here?” My manager just replied no, that she understood the customer’s concerns, and provided a number to call for customer service. As I’m standing next to my manager at the cashiers, I was shocked to hear such a question.

How can the public and older generations become informed of what they are saying? How can leadership be introduced to all professions and social situations? What would you have said to the customer’s question? Do any of you have similar experiences with female and male managers?
I found this interesting website that displays the percentages of women vs men in each profession. Some of these did not seem accurate to what I have experienced. I also noticed that some of the professions overlap into others.


  1. I also worked in retail and had a female manager who was eccentric and accepting of her workers having piercings and tattoos and not dressing professionally. It was a relaxed environment but she still had high goals and held us to them. I often see posts on social media who poke fun of middle age white women who always ask to speak to the manager. In a lot of ways I think our generation is forgiving and accepting of people who don’t fit in a certain position in our head and moving past that.
    I know when I worked retail, it was mostly for younger people and when they say my manager with her 3 facial piercings and bright red hair they were excited about it and would compliment her. Some of the older people who came in for gifts for their kids would be surprised but would never say anything to her face about the way she looked or dressed or simply for being a woman leader because in every other aspect of our store, we were put together and efficient. It makes me mad when people don’t respect another person just because of 1 biological characteristic.

  2. The chart of occupations were really interesting. It started out in female dominated occupations and ended with male dominated occupations. As I was scrolling, I noticed that a lot of the occupations ended up skewed heavily to what society considered masculine/feminine occupations. For example, teaching and nursing were seen as primarily female occupations and were charted as being fulfilled primarily by females. I also noticed that the male dominated occupations included jobs such as engineering, heavy machinery, outdoor occupations, and upper business which are stereotyped as masculine. Our brains do revolve around generalizing data and I believe that these stereotypes form mental maps about how society should be laid out. This could be the reason why people get defensive or react negatively when we see someone perform an occupation that goes against what we consider the norm.

    I think the only thing we can do is try and show older and younger generations that women and men are capable of going into both feminine and masculine occupations. I work at a small deli on the Parkway over the summer, and all of my managers were female. One incident that sticks out, was we were swamped one day and we had ticket times of 30-45 minutes for food. One woman did not appreciate that, and asked to see my manager. My manager is 5″ 2′ and only 25 years old and while she calmly approached her concerns, the customer kept getting more irritable until she tried to grab at my manager across the table. It shocked everyone that a customer would disrespect our manager like that just because she thought as the “customer she was always right”. The customer, however, responded very well though when one of the male cooks stepped out front. It is sad to see that just because someone is a female, they can be seen lesser than a male in an occupation.

    I think that it should be a requirement that everyone in college has to take a leadership course and that all companies should have their employees take leadership seminars. That way, they can understand what leadership looks like and respect it.

  3. I think stories like this just go to show how pervasive our gender stereotypes are. My mother is the only woman on a leadership team of eight people in a male-dominated field. She’s a self-proclaimed feminist and has always encouraged us to “break the mold” but she is quick to comment on the outfits of newscasters or actresses or on women in traditionally masculine occupations and make other remarks that reinforce gender stereotypes and expectations. My sister and I have found a new hobby in pointing these facts out to her. When she makes comments about women on television or in movies, we are quick to point out how she is reinforcing societal expectations. While we all laugh about it, it is a serious problem, and I do think it is something that she is working to correct (at least in front of us).

    I do think it is eye opening when someone starts to point out to you that your comments are a reflection of societal norms and may not reflect your own views. I’ve certainly had my fair share of moments and I think it will be something that becomes more common as we, as a society, start to realize how pervasive and detrimental these stereotypes are.

  4. I have never worked in retail, nor have I considered the male to female ratio. I am shocked that a customer once asked to the the “man” assuming that he is in charge and holds ultimate authority. However, considering the statistics and studies we look at in class, I suppose this should not be too surprising.

    If I worked in retail and found myself in a similar situation, I would politely respond that “she is unavailable right now,” and still provide the customer service hotline. I think this is a time for the verbal ju-jitsu component of tempered radicalism. By restating that your manager is a “she” to the customer can convey the message that it is silly to assume the manager is a man. Since this approach is not a direct attack, it will not be embarrassing to the customer. Hopefully, they will get the message, and think more carefully through their words next time.

  5. Its so interesting to take what we learn and apply it to the work place because the truth comes out and its sad that there are so many of these stories that are still happening. I mentioned this in my other comment, which talks about smiliest type of “expectations” that people have which start conflict or a situation. It is pretty difficult to force an entire generation, such as those who are a bit older and were raised in a life where there were these gendered norms. However, as I mentioned there, I think that situation would be a great opportunity to teach that person about how women can do well and be managers and quite honestly, whatever they want to be. It’s so interesting how people have these expectations of gendered roles like doctors only being men as stated in another blog post by Ginny.

    I don’t know how I would respond because there is the aspect of respecting the customers and in my experience there has never been a situation when calling my manger, who all are women, has been a problem. They are always respected unless the email award system doesn’t work and the customer is mad, but that isn’t affected by their gender. If it were to be a situation where their gender was questioned I would guess that my manager would say something along the lines of her being the manager and nothing can really be done about her not being a male and the customer would just have to “deal.” If it were to ever be questioned I feel that I might do the same as above where I’m changing or emphasizing my language and particular words to drive the fact that yes she is a women and yes she is a manager. Who knows, might take the opportunity to talk about how the perception and stereotypes of women have changed and they are capable and smart enough to be managers and higher ups and be in any field they wish to be. Theres respecting the one customer and then theres respecting your manger and I feel I would try to stick up for my manager a little bit.

    I would have to agree with Kymbre above, that education is a great way to help. It doesn’t have to be formal, for example, taking situations like these and teaching that person or at least trying to get them to see a different perspective and maybe they will think about things like stereotypes and these expected gendered roles. There is also the formal route where training could include videos on leadership or leadership training in any way and as well as formal classes. Either way some form of formal education would be best but in general spreading what we learn will help others learn and see and then hopefully can reach farther. If a small group of people can talk to different types of people domino effects can happen which can cause an even bigger change and allow for this learning to be known and expressed. As this class has opened my eyes and allowed me to be more observant in not only what I say but what I hear and see as well.

  6. Although it is disheartening to think about, I think a sad reality is that some of the individuals in the older generations are well aware of how damaging stereotypes can be but some just don’t seem to care enough to adjust their mindsets and actions. In response to how I would have reacted to the customer, depending on my level of irritation I probably would have handled it the same as your manager; however, I would be tempted to engage the customer in conversation and ask why they felt the need to request a male manager/how they thought that would help the situation.

  7. Hi Amanda!

    I have also worked retail and have noticed a more collaborative, team-based leadership style within the contexts of my more female-dominated jobs. Because of the idea of women in leadership positions as a visible concept is relatively new, gender stereotypes and expectations impact how many individuals may understand environments such as retail environments. Many people believe that leaders, especially managers, are supposed to be men and therefore dominant, assertive, task-oriented. Because of this, I think that many people are unable to recognize that there is a distinguishment between a female manager and a female associate. As a result, you might hear comments such as the one made at Justice from confused and uneducated customers. If I was faced with a similar situation, I probably would have reiterated the competence of my female manager and her willingness to help in an attempt to present her as a leader just as capable as a male manager.

    That being said, I believe that education is the best way to combat the issue you described. If people aren’t educated about the changing expectations and percentages of genders in certain professions, we can’t blame them for the offhand comments that they might make. It is important to show people, especially those that are familiar and comfortable with gender stereotypes in society, that individuals don’t have to fit certain molds in order to be good leaders. Once people are better informed, I think that they will be more accepting of women in leadership roles and therefore, will be less likely to make unfavorable remarks.

  8. The Hair Cuttery I worked at was run by a women (Amparo), and most of the employees were women (with the occasional man). Things like haircuts are easily dominated by women, because they are associated with beauty and the home. It’s a nice environment to work in. There’s a definite communal feeling that Amparo created, especially surrounding food. They like to feed each other, and I’d get to try what they’re eating sometimes. The only downside to a group of women is that they can become cliques or can be a bit catty. Sometimes there were disputes, but Amparo always solved them with sitting those involved down for a discussion. I’ve never had a male manager or boss of any kind, so I’m curious to how the experience would be.

  9. This difference harkens back to the first classes when we were learning about the stereotypical leadership styles. Men tend to be very assertive, dominating, and authoritative; they usually command orders and expect them to be followed without much reflection on how it may affect others. The walkie talkies made this easier because it allows from them to avoid all confrontation of any emotion and just get what they needed. While the belief in lack of competency and the micromanaging could be from the sales associates being all female, it could also just be the result of being a lower position or the inability to relate to the subordinates. Regardless, demeaning comments should not be tolerated. Meanwhile, women leadership styles tend to focus a lot more about emotions, so they tend to be a lot more collaborative with conversations. Women leaders tend to focus less on power over others, and they focus more on power with and empowerment. This makes for stronger workers. Unfortunately, this also makes women appear less as leaders because they don’t place themselves about- this leads to problems like the one your manager faced. Older generations cannot be changed to view women differently, but we can instill different views in the youth. I do not agree, however, that lenient deadlines are a good thing because it makes for unprofessionalism and could negatively affect the business. Furthermore, it is important to remember that these are just generalities- they do not apply to everyone and could be amended. For instance, my boss is female but has a much greater masculine style.

  10. I am sorry to hear about the experiences you had to deal with while working in retail. I also used to work in retail, but I worked for a much smaller time period. I chose to get a job as a Sales Associate at a local boutique called Francesca’s during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I, luckily, did not experience the same things you did while I was at Francesca’s. However, everyone that worked at the boutique was female (most likely due to the feminine nature of our products). I found that my managers were very attentive and helpful. They were always more than happy to answer my questions. They constantly went out of their way to explain new concepts and styles to me.
    My work tasks at Francesca’s are similar to yours at Justice. We also operated as a team and focused heavily on the customers and completing tasks as a whole store. Before ever shift, the manager on duty would explain our goals for the day. Each Sales Associate did not have their own required numbers that they had to meet. The store as a whole had a goal they wanted to reach, and the entire team worked towards that goal. We were very collaborative like you mentioned.
    I have also been exposed to similar situations like the one you experienced over the weekend. There were instances where customers were upset and asked to speak to a manager, not realizing that they were already talking to one. I think people are just so used to seeing men in charge, that they often expect it in all occupations. These customers are more surprised to see a female manager than they would be to see a male manager at a store that only sold traditionally female clothing.

  11. I really enjoyed this blog because I have also worked under both the feminine and masculine leadership styles and have never realized the difference until now. About two years ago, I worked under all male managers at a restaurant called O’Charley’s and now I have been working at a ticket office under all female managers. My job as a waitress was already stressful, but my bosses would make it even more stressful by leading under strict, masculine rule. For example, if we were rated on anything lower than a 5 (out of 5), we would have to go into the managers office for a stern talking – keep in mind these ratings include things that are out of our hands such as if the kitchen is backed-up that day! Contrarily, at the ticket office we are given positive rewards for excelling in customer service and up-selling. The difference between punishing if you don’t do a great job versus rewarding if you do a great job really plays into my personal motivation. I also really, really related to your point about how the male managers would just take something over instead of teaching a better way to do something. Lastly, I think that I would have said something to the man about his comment, but I also respect your manager for staying level-headed about the situation and not letting it get to her.

  12. I really enjoyed reading your post! I work at Old Navy and have definitely experienced similar situations. I have had lots of different managers and see a big difference in the way that women and men manage a company. My male managers were very direct and often did not seem to want the best for me or my coworkers. My women managers were very conversational in that they asked opinions for how the were doing and even sent out multiple surveys for us to give feed back. I also experienced most of the women in my store being sales associates while many of the men got promotions rather easily. I think that men are capable of leading like my female managers did but chose not to. Maybe they chose not to because they view women as incompetent or just view themselves as superior. I think it is all of our responsibility to lead in a way that we want to be lead.

  13. Personally, I have only worked in recreational service industries and have only been managed by men therefore I can’t offer any experiences such as yours. Looking directly at your occurrences, it was interesting to see that the male run business solely focusing on mass individual sales to keep the company running was unsuccessful compared to the female manager you experienced who enacted collaboration techniques is thriving. The idea we studied pertaining to the need for women leadership is becoming more and more evident everyday. In glancing over the website statistics you provided, the common theme of women holding “assistant” or “clerk” position rather than the hierarchical positions where they hold main leadership role is significantly different than the men.

    The idiom, “Can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” relates well in this situation. I believe for the older generations we as millennial individuals do not have the ability to alter their traditionally established cognitive thought processes of the role men vs women should hold because these people are not open-minded to the idea of change; however, the goal here should not be to change but to impact in a sense that at least makes them think about their intentional or unintentional actions. In order to do this on all levels in all professions, we have to step up and make them aware of what they have just said or did. Although the manager properly and professionally addressed the conversation without confrontation, there is a way to implement that same professionalism while shedding light to the bias held against them. In response to the customer in your scenario, I would have I would have stated my experience and told them I was the most qualified out of either gender to handle their situation. Although subtle, its impactful and still very professional.

  14. When I conducted my interviews for our recent paper, one of my interviewees said something interesting. It was that young boys need a man to look up to, same goes for girls, they need a woman to look up to. They need them because they connect and understand one another better. Its interesting to think that women and men are capable of doing the same things, just the way they do those things is different. So when I you talked about your first manager vs your second. I think that since you were just starting out with your first job, your male manager probably had a hard time connecting with you and you to him. Granted it sound like he just generally stunk, but even if he was a good manager, you would have probably still connected to your female manager easier. This is all from the perspective of being young. I believe that this is much lesser of a degree as people get older and understand the jobs that they need to do.

  15. I think there is definitely a generational dissonance between understanding and accepting women’s leadership. When I worked at my first high school job, I had a pretty equal mixture of men and women managers. One of the male leaders, Nick, was very young and had a combinative leadership style. What I mean by this is that, while he was very competitive, he was also very collaborative. For instance, for the month of October we would ask people to donate money to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure campaign, which raised awareness for breast cancer. Nick would tell our department that, if we met a certain amount of donations, he would treat us to a free order of fries (or some other food incentive). His masculine approach to leadership was also feminized in this way, as he would let us choose the food that we wanted to order. I think, from your experience, the customer was out of touch with how men and women are beginning to lead in styles that diverge from gender norms. Your manager did not need to be male to lead well, just as my manager did not need to be female to be more collaborative.

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