Details magazine got the queer blogosphere abuzz this month with a feature on “Why Gay Men Make the Best Bosses.” In my years as a professional scalawag for both queer and straight media outlets, I’ve had quite a few gay bosses, so I was interested to see where this story was going.
Danielle Sacks, the straight woman who wrote the piece, makes the case that homos are great managers with anecdotes from wage slaves who got great feedback and encouragement from their bender bosses. She also plugs The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives Are Excelling as Leaders . . . and What Every Manager Needs to Know by USC professor Kirk Snyder. It’s sort of a Seven Habits of Highly Successful Homos.
“Gay people are constantly having to dodge and weave and assess how and where they’re going as they grow up,” says Snyder. “And that manifests itself as three huge skills: adaptability, intuitive communications, and creative problem-solving.”
In other words, your boss is cool with your leaving a little early one day a week to pick up your kid from school, or happy to offer a learning experience that helps you close a crucial deal.
Nope, not gonna buy this one.
Details throws these gay-interest nuggets in every month to stealthily acknowledge its queer readership while still maintaining it’s the straight-bro’s Bible. And that’s fine. But suggesting that a queer boss would be more empathetic and supportive than a straight one is ridiculous. Doesn’t Sacks watch Drag Race—or the first season of Survivor? Gay men will throw each other under the bus as soon as possible. (I’m kidding… a little.)
Even if you could make such gross generality about gay men (and I find Sacks’ claim pretty gross), being a nurturer is hardly the chief requirement of an executive. The same stereotype that says gay men are creative and reassuring says they don’t have ambition or a backbone. You can’t have it both ways.
While I think my various employers’ sexuality might’ve played some part in their overall personality, no two have been the same: I’ve had gay bosses that were total hard-asses—guys who didn’t respect their staff and took credit for other people’s work. I also had a gay boss who had no balls—he was so concerned with making sure everyone liked him (perhaps a holdover from being bullied as a kid) that he couldn’t call anyone on their shit.
Even Sacks seems to doubt her claim. Or at least some of the people she interviewed did, anyway:
“The only managers that succeed are ones that have energy and are outgoing and interested,” says Richard Laermer, the gay CEO of a New York–based PR firm and co-author of Punk Marketing: Get Off Your Ass and Join the Revolution. “If that’s a gay thing, then mazel tov, but I know the same number of straight managers who are emotional and caring.”
And one gay vice president at a financial firm says his leadership traits come from his life history, not from anything related to his sexual orientation. “I was in the military, in a fraternity, and played a varsity sport,” he says. “I feel like I spend my life explaining that what I’m saying or doing has nothing to do with the fact that I’m gay.”
The bottom line is management epiphanies are like fad diets—every few months someone comes along an announces that following the Kabbalah or incorporating lessons from Fat Albert will take your business to the top.
In reality, it’s a crapshoot: Gay men can make the best bosses, but they can also make some of the worst. All I know is if I were Sacks’ boss, I’d rake her over the coals for her conclusion:
If your new boss happens to be gay, chances are you’ll be happier and more fulfilled in your job. And even if you’re not, the consolation is that there’s still one area in which he’s likely to excel. Says Smith, “We throw the fiercest holiday parties.”
Well sure, if that’s the yardstick your measuring by.