Artificial intelligence


As some readers may know, I’ve been appearing regularly on this season’s RTE Today show, filmed right here in Cork, with a segment called ‘The F Word’. F for feminism, that is.

It’s been great fun, and it’s an interesting way to approach issues that face all of us. Economic and social gender inequality affects both men and women negatively, and the world would generally be a better place if we were all on an even keel. We’re getting there, but – as this week’s business interviewee, who remained anonymous, points out – very, very slowly.

One of the biggest issues any of us has in modern life is coexisting with other people in the artificial environment that is the modern workplace. The modern workplace has artificial light, artificial air conditioning, and artificially polite relationships with all sorts of people you might never have hung out with, if your company’s hiring policies hadn’t got in the way. And your life is probably the richer for having met them.

But the biggest deal for many of us is our boss. A recent poll by Gallup, the US polling company, found that 40% of women and 29% of men would prefer a male to a female boss. 50% of both genders didn’t care, so you can extrapolate that only 10% of women expressed a preference for a female boss. That doesn’t say a lot for female solidarity.

Here at the Cork Independent, our MD is male, but all three managers are female. And when we asked viewers of the show for their feedback on Facebook, the responses were interesting.

Women, it appears, dislike working for other women. Not all women, of course, but it did back up the findings of the poll. I put this down to something called ‘confirmation bias’. This means that if we already hold a belief – a prejudice – we are quick to find one or two vivid examples to confirm it. So one horrible female boss can taint your view of women at the top forever, where one horrible male one is taken as an individual case.

And popular culture isn’t kind to women in charge. Think of powerful women, or even go specifically for women bosses across film and TV. When you think of powerful women as seen in pop culture, who do you come up with? You’re probably going straight for Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, possibly via the predatorial Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses.

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But, as in many other things, the pop culture view of women in charge is dreadfully stereotyped.

Many of those commenting on Today’s Facebook page said they preferred women bosses, for being more intuitive, better listeners and better at teamwork. Again, this obviously isn’t true of all women, but it’s a good sign if women are being promoted for these skills, which have traditionally been undervalued in favour of perceived ruthlessness and competitiveness. While both ruthlessness and competitiveness might be useful skills for stock market traders or elite sportspeople (one Corkman certainly comes to mind), neither characteristic makes for a very good team manager.

There’s really only one conclusion for bosses – and aspiring bosses – of both genders. Don’t be horrible. The good news is, your personality isn’t biologically determined. Emotional intelligence is crucial, but a certain amount of it can be learned. Let’s call it artificial intelligence.

The best bosses I’ve had have been listeners who value their staff, and make sure they know that. It’s not hard, but it might not come naturally. But hey – neither does anything else about working life.

From the Cork Independent, 5 December 2013. You can watch me chatting to Daithi, Maura, and Darina Allen, here.

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