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Commutes are frustrating because they make us feel like we don’t have any control. You’re either trapped on a bus or train, or trapped in a car crawling along the freeway. But if you focus on what you can control, your time heading to and from work can become the best, most enriching parts of your day.
Take enough London buses, and you'll know there are exactly two types of people who'll ever address the driver: angry old ladies cursing them out when the route is diverted or drunk people calling them an asshole for not letting them on without bus fare. Which, in fairness, is probably why the majority of bus drivers always look somewhere between completely indifferent and just absolutely furious.
I spoke to a bunch of bus drivers about whether or not the job is as miserable as it can seem from the outside.
VICE: What's it like to be a bus driver in London?
Daniel: You get bored. Sometimes I end up sitting there talking or singing to myself. In London, all you're doing is sitting in traffic, and that's it. You're sweating. You've got people moaning because they're hot and want to get off the bus. I don't want to sit in traffic either. I've got things I want to do, but I can't just fly over it.
What's the worst experience you've had with a customer?
When I first started driving, Pollards Hill in Croydon was one of the places where, if you got out of the car, you'd be liable to get jumped for your money. Once a driver threatened to stab me. Then, about ten years ago when I was in south London, near Brixton, somebody wanted to get off while I was in the middle lane, and when I said no, they said they were going to have somebody come down to shoot me. But if they had got off, and they got run over, it would be me who gets charged for letting them off in the middle of a road.
And what's the best thing about working with the public?
It's nice seeing kids grow up. I've done the same route for seven years now, and you see them grow from little kids to young adults and notice how they change over the years.
VICE: On a daily basis, what's your interaction with the public like at work?
Mohammed Shabbir: I interact quite a lot, and I try to be as helpful as possible. If I'm asked a question, I'll try to give them the answer. We tend to get asked a lot of questions—people think bus drivers know every single bus route in London and know every single side street—which they don't.
Have you had any particularly bad experiences with customers?
I haven't had any bad experiences that I can remember, and that's the God's honest truth. I think it's my attitude—I just wouldn't let it get to me. We're in such a melting pot of cultures that we're scared to talk to people, and everyone's rushing, but a bus driver's experience at work is down to our attitude. Bus drivers seem to be grumpy all the time, and I personally think they shouldn't be.
Any particularly good experiences?
I got invited to a passenger's daughter's wedding. The passenger was a regular, and I was her driver for about four years. A group of us used to go out for drinks, and then her daughter was getting married, and she invited me. It was really nice of her, and we still keep in touch. There's another passenger who's a friend of mine now, too. I don't drive him any longer, but we went go-karting together once.
VICE: What's your daily interaction with the public like?
Richard: I mainly drive early routes, so quite a few of the people I take are regular commuters. You get used to certain passengers, and you even miss them when they're not there. They get used to you as well—they know their driver, sort of thing. Even if they're in a rush, they're still pretty polite.
That doesn't sound like the London I know.
It's because it's the outskirts of London. I've done many routes in central London before—I used to drive the bendy bus at London Bridge. There was no personal touch with people; it's just the hustle and bustle of everyday work life for people. They haven't got time to say good morning to a driver.
What's the worst experience you've had with a customer?
I was in north London, Tottenham, pulling away from a stop, and a passenger started banging on the window—but we can't stop when we're on a schedule, so I kept going. Then I got caught in traffic lights, and he managed to catch the bus at the next stop. He was swearing at me and threatening me, and I ended up calling the police because he wouldn't get off. I didn't get help or a single thank you from other passengers, because I was delaying them, and some of those getting off the bus were rude as well. That wasn't particularly good.
VICE: What's your interaction with the public like as a bus driver?
Andy: Ninety percent of people will ignore you, and only the other 10 percent who you take home every night will actually say hello and thanks. If you randomly talk to someone, they'll probably end up being crazy and trying to fight you, because we don't take money, so you don't really need to interact with the public. A couple of guys have even quit their job after bad experiences with people at work. Someone's probably went off on them, or a customer tried to hit them, and then they just thought, I've had enough of this, and just got off the bus
Have you ever had a particularly good experience?
Not really. It's just a job. I drive the bus, the customers get on and off, and that's basically it. You get to know your customers, but there isn't really a relationship there. I know exactly who I'm going to pick up tonight because I'm on duty, and I am a lot, like the two guys from the chicken shop after the chicken shop's closed down for the night. They'll be getting on reeking of chicken.
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That said, we know there are myriad structural and cultural issues that prevent women from rising up the ranks—from women being unfairly burdened by domestic work, to their apparently destructive lack of self-confidence, to the fact that women simply aren't believed to be as competent as men, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
One area that has been less explored, and could be seriously holding women back from progressing into leadership roles, is how subordinates treat their female superiors.
Over a series of three experiments, Dr. Leah Sheppard from Washington State University, Dr. Maryam Kouchaki from Northwestern University, and Dr. Ekaterina Netchaeva from Bocconi University discovered many men in subordinate positions feel threatened by female superiors and behave more assertively toward them than they would a male manager.
In the first test, participants completed a computer exercise in which they interacted with either a hypothetical male or female boss to negotiate a salary offer of $28,500. Men interacting with female managers provided significantly higher counteroffers than when interacting with male ones—$49,400 versus $42,870. Whereas female participants provided an average counteroffer of $41,636 and didn't differ significantly depending on their manager's gender.
Researchers then investigated the hypothesis that men felt threatened by female managers by asking all participants to take a test in which they had to guess words that appeared on a screen—a format commonly used to assess if bias is present. The researchers found men who were faced with female bosses were more likely to see words such as "fear" and "risk"—indicators that the men felt threatened, even if they didn't admit or recognize it.
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For the second experiment, male participants had to decide how to split a $10,000 bonus among a group of colleagues. Researchers found men divided it just about equally between male and female co-workers—a welcome example of fairness amid otherwise troubling findings. But don't hold your breath: The men then gave male managers about half the pot and took a whopping $500 more for themselves when asked to split it with a female manager.
Here seems a sensible place to mention that women are still paid significantly less than men for the same job, despite this being illegal in the EU, the US, and elsewhere for decades.
Finally, researchers studied how participants would split the $10,000 bonus with female superiors described as "proactive" and "direct," as opposed to "self-promoting" and "power-seeking." The team found men penalized female supervisors in the latter group even more harshly, keeping a larger share of the bonus for themselves.
In summary, the results showed men reacted more assertively with female superiors regardless of how "power-seeking" they were perceived to be but penalized women who were more obviously ambitious even harder. It's probably worth ruminating on the implications of that trend—Hillary Clinton's pant-suited loss to Trump versus Theresa May's smiling, studiously nonthreatening win when meeting the president—but is the disparity then down to women's management style, or is it simply how men react to female superiors more generally?
"We need to be able to connect masculinity and femininity, so instead of seeing these as opposite constructs, shouldn't we really see the ideal manager has elements of both?"
Sheppard said: "I definitely think it's how men react [generally to female superiors], because women are very aware of the stereotypes that surround them and of how negative the consequences can be when they violate any of their gender norms. Women try to take a very cooperative and collaborative leadership style. And actually, the research indicates women are more likely to demonstrate 'transformational' leadership, which is really about connecting with your followers and modeling the type of behavior you want them to engage in and making sure that your followers have an understanding of the bigger meaning of what you're doing."
It appears that women fear being viewed as "weak" for not acting as assertively as their male colleagues, knowing they won't get that promotion if they don't pursue it, while continually running the risk of being branded as "power-hungry" and becoming a target for unfairly assertive behavior. As it stands, in order to reach the dizzying heights of business success, women have to be far smoother operators than men vying for—or working in—the same positions.
So how can businesses support women and address the problem?
"We're thinking so much about getting women into positions of power and trying to mitigate these reactions toward them, when really we need to change the perception of what is a prototypical leader," said Sheppard. "We need to also be able to connect masculinity and femininity, so instead of seeing these as opposite constructs, shouldn't we really see the ideal [manager] has elements of both? Right now we clearly have a hierarchy between masculinity and femininity, wherein masculinity is more highly valued. So we should focus on how we can bring these two things closer to one another in terms of value.
"Male leaders who have the opportunity to be role models for other men in organizations, they should be doing things like making sure they have a collaborative leadership style, making sure they take time out when they have a child, and making sure they engage in behaviors that are maybe more stereotypically feminine to show that there's nothing wrong with being more nurturing. Then we will get to a point when it's not about the gender of the supervisor any longer—when it's more accepted that a leader is going to have both masculine and feminine components."
Essentially, men need to be able to be more collaborative, and women need to be able to be viewed as ambitious, without either feeling in fear of being penalized for acting outside of their gender norms.
Ken Cooper, global head of HR at Bloomberg—a financial software, data, and media giant considered one of the world's best employers for women—said the business had encountered instances like those described in Sheppard's study and implemented development and leadership initiatives to address them.
"[These] help our employees understand how unconscious bias affects their interactions with colleagues, and our perceptions around the different ways men and women lead," he said in an email. "We also teach our managers how to lead diverse teams, providing them with the tools to manage and react to a variety of biases, including gender."
While we contacted a dozen companies for comment—all of which claimed to instill a pro-women work culture, with most admitting to having knowledge of the problem off the record—only Bloomberg was happy to address the issue publicly.
Taking light relief in the assumption that millennials are more likely to hold feminist principles is unfortunately not an option, as Sheppard said there was no evidence of younger men being more likely to treat male and female managers fairly than the generation before them. So in order to stop women negotiating this uphill struggle alone, businesses need to face up to the fact that their female staff—regardless of their management style—are more likely to be subjected to assertive behavior from their male subordinates than men in the same position.
This is undoubtedly an issue to be addressed across every industry with female workers if women are to gain and hold more leadership positions and even—as the bonus splitting experiment indicates—to finally gain equal pay for equal work. Until then, we are setting women up to fail.
Follow Sophia Rahman on Twitter.