Gender Differences in the Supervisory Relationship

By Doughty, Elizabeth A.; Leddick, George R. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Gender Differences in the Supervisory Relationship


Doughty, Elizabeth A., Leddick, George R., Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


It is rare to address gender issues in counseling supervision and little research has been devoted to these. This review describes supervisor and supervisee gender expectations, role disparities, supervisory relationship differences, and variations in communication styles of males and females. Specific suggestions are offered to remove gender bias from the supervision process.

In the supervisory relationship, supervisees frequently have different expectations of male and female supervisors (Borders & Leddick, 1987). Despite research indicating gender does have an impact on the supervisory relationship, few studies have examined what role gender plays (Bernard & Goodyear, 1998). More attention must be given to the issues surrounding gender differences and their effects on counseling supervision (Ellis & Robbins, 1993). It is important for counselors and supervisors to be aware of differences and how these might relate to their own supervisory relationships. Counselors should be mindful of how a person's gender influences past and present interactions and perspectives. Understanding how gender impacts the supervisory relationship and the process of supervision can help counselor supervisors reduce gender bias and provide more effective supervision. The purpose of this article is to shed light on gender issues in the supervisory relationship.

Gender studies and feminist perspectives have increasingly been incorporated into the curricula of universities across the nation, focusing more attention on women's issues (Filkowski, Storm, York, & Brandon, 2001). Because research on counseling supervision (Brodsky, 1980; Borders & Leddick, 1987; Nelson, 1997) has long hypothesized about the effects of gender on the supervisory relationship, it is fitting that attention is now focused on this area.

It is critical for readers to distinguish between the terms "gender" and "sex. " Sex refers solely to whether an individual is physically male or female. Gender, on the other hand, refers to the psychological, social, and cultural characteristics that have become strongly associated with the biological categories of male and female (Gilbert & Scher, 1999). Gender is a complex construct that is defined by what society believes is true of males and females and the stereotypes placed upon the sexes. Gilbert and Scher (1999) cited studies revealing differences in the way males and females think, behave, and are treated. It is important for counselors and supervisors to be aware of some of these differences and how these might relate to their relationships in supervision.

Paisley (1994) pointed out that men have traditionally held more power within society. Today, despite some changes, women still battle inequalities in political, social, and economic arenas. Masculine traits are often seen as more desirable than traits perceived as feminine. In fact, these traits are often even seen as more mentally sound. In addition, our society is inundated with sexual messages that reinforce sexist attitudes and expectations. Paisley stated that with gender issues so prevalent in our society, it is likely these issues spill over into the supervisory relationship.

Supervisors and therapists are not immune to gender bias. Humans bring a set of life experiences and beliefs to the therapeutic process. Though attitudes have changed, women may still be viewed as needing more help or expected to suppress assertive behaviors. They run the risk of being labeled dependent or histrionic when expressing needs and/or they may generally be seen as weak. Men may be regarded as weak or even disturbed if they do not present traditional male roles and characteristics. They may be encouraged to distance themselves from emotions. A client or supervisee's gender elicits certain expectations from therapists and supervisors that, if not kept in check, can bias the course of supervision. Holloway and Wolleat (1994) emphasized the need for supervision to be an empowering experience for women, who in their cultural contexts may not often be given this opportunity. …

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