Women Bullying Women in the Workplace-We Can and Must Do Betterby Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP on 04/07/18
Compelling numbers have emerged across the workforce. These span every business sector, profession, and setting. While I often write about the manifestation of disrupters like workplace bullying across the health and behavioral care industry, I opted to go global this go round. Nurses have the traditional reputation of 'eating their young', but the issue of women bullying women in the workplace is universal in scope, with attention mandated:
· Female bullies most often target other women, up to 80% of the time (Workplace Bullying Institute, 2017)
· Women who report to female supervisors experience more frequent symptoms of physical and psychological stress than those who work for males, and
· 95% of women believe they were undermined by another woman in the workplace (Drexler, 2013)
· Women prefer to work for male bosses as opposed to females who may be viewed as ‘emotional’, ‘catty’, or ‘bitchy’ (Khazan, 2017)
Whether known as ‘mean girls’, ‘queen bees’, or ‘bitches’, these women are bullies. They reap pleasure at terrorizing their female colleagues through behaviors that span a continuum from aggressive to indifferent:
· Yelling at, minimizing, and devaluing staff in public meetings.
· Promising time off, then rescinding the request last minute without cause.
· Singling out specific individuals through unfair treatment, such as rejecting time off, delaying approvals until last minute.
· Giving unequal and/or more demanding work assignments.
· Being dismissive, curt, and disrespectful, intentionally and consistently.
· Using crude language to evoke a response.
· Deliberately undermining and sabotaging work efforts.
Female bullies demonstrate their power, whether consciously or not, toward individuals or groups. They are notorious for having the knack to exploit the vulnerabilities of other females. One may presume that a female boss would be more invested in mentoring other female staff and subordinates; this is a presumption only. Female bosses can present as caring and condescending at the same time. Drexler (2013) discussed how private information shared by a staff member with her allegedly, nurturing and supportive boss of the same gender could have unintended and disastrous results. The shared information might be used to diminish the staff member’s reputation, such as a disclosure about a failed relationship or even private medical or mental health condition. Even the potential legal ramifications that could present from this type of privacy breach may not deter the bully. This dynamic is one reason why experts advise that employees should keep all personal information close to the vest in the workplace (Mueller, 2011). This caution should extend to professional interactions and social events where colleagues might be in attendance.
The voracity by which women bully other women, as well as men is surprising, particularly with recent initiatives focused on outing males who engage in both bullying and sexual harassment of their employees. These employees are perceived as less powerful and vulnerable, and are most often women; 47% as opposed to 11% for men (Statista, 2017). TImesUp continues to roar, expanding their efforts and initiatives including the formation of a new Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace. There is a recent partnership with ALL RAISE, an organization dedicated to accelerating the success of female funders and founders in the venture-backed tech realm. The collaborative goal is to grow initiatives for women, while assuring a safe and equitable workplace for all.
Amid the importance of these very public efforts, it seems antithetical that female bosses would so fiercely continue to bully those of their gender, and with such prevelence. The widespread episodes of sexual harassment, now regularly reported across the media involve the same dynamics as those for bullying; individuals have abused their power to threaten, humiliate, and intimidate another person or persons. With the focus on shifting this culture, why do women continue to so readily bully their own?
Why Do Women Bully other Women?
I have been a victim of, as well as witness colleagues and friends experience the following behaviors and dynamics over the years:
· Women engage in female relational aggression: the use of relationships to hurt others (Dellasega, 2007).
· Woman want personal power independent of age; whether child, adolescent, or adult (Sutphen, in Dellasega, 2007).
· With the majority of leadership positions routinely going to men, women look to freeze out the competition (Drexler, 2013).
· Girls mature through forging relationships. If there is an issue with that process, they learn unhealthy patterns of interaction (Brown & Gilligan, 1992).
· Insecurity (Redrick, 2015)
· Healthy competition and confidence are encouraged in boys but less desirable traits for girls (Margolies, n.d.).
· Traditional professional education and practice cultures support bullying more than negate it (Fink-Samnick, 2017).
· Assertive women are mistakenly viewed as aggressive or ruthless by other women, this behavior perceived as bullying by those less assertive (Sheppard and Aquino, 2014).
· Women may mirror the bullying behavior of their male colleagues to be consistent with the organizational culture of the workplace.
The implications are beyond concerning:
· Limited mentoring of the next generation of female professionals.
· Devaluing the professional standing of the female workforce,
· Poor organizational morale,
· Workforce retention challenges,
· Increased mental health issues, and
· Increased incidence of suicide.
We Can and Must Do Better!
Calling out, identifying, and managing workplace bullying must be dealt with swiftly and directly. This has been discussed in prior blogs and articles, with an abundance of strategies and resources provided. In addition, there must be advocacy for the development, implementation, and support of initiatives that empower women in the workplace. I’ve had a number of exciting conversations with industry experts who possess great wisdom in this area. The following suggestions are a start in the right direction:
· Gain greater understanding and education about the dynamics of human behavior, specific to women; Assertive women must be understood as opposed to feared.
· Teach leadership styles and skills as integral education for any female professional.
· Provide career mentoring for women at every level of the career ladder.
· Develop collectives, start ups, and partnerships that focus on leveraging the knowledge and expertise of women, and then,
· Partner with education entities of all levels to reinforce the messaging through associates, baccalaureate, masters, and post-masters degree programs.
· Embrace competition as a valuable and healthy competency for all genders.
· Strive to build each other up as opposed to tear each other down.
· Shift the culture; it is never easy, but doable with education, awareness, time, and consistency.
I am confident we can do better. Every step forward yields progress, no matter how big or small. Now, who is with me?
Strategies, articles, and resources to manage workplace bullying appear in my past blog, Bullying and Leadership: Abusive and Vicarious Abusive Supervision
Let’s keep the conversation going…I look forward to your recommendations and thoughts, so feel free to add them.
Until next time...Stay Resilient,
Brown, L.M. and Gilligan, C. (1992) Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girl’s Development, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
Dellasega, C. (2007) Mean Girls Grow UP: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey
Drexler, P. (6 March, 2013) The Tyranny of the Queen Bee, Wall Street Journal
Falzoi, D. (24 April, 2016) New study shows that prolonged exposure to workplace bullying can lead to suicide – and it can happen to anyone, MA Healthy Workplace Bill
Fink-Samnick, E. (2017) The New Age of Bullying and Violence in Health Care: Part 3, Managing the Bullying Boss and Leadership, Professional Case Management, November/December, 22(6) pg. 260-274
Fink-Samnick, E. (2016)The New Age of Bullying and Violence in Health Care: Part 2, Advancing Professional Education, Practice Culture, and Advocacy, Professional Case Management, May/June 2016, 21(3), pg 114-126
Khazan, Olga (September 2017) Why Do Women Bully Each Other at Work, The Atlantic, Business
Margolies, L. (N.D.) Competition Among Women: Myth and Reality, PsychCentral.com
Mueller, R.L. (2011) Bullying Bosses: A Survivor’s Guide, self-published through Wordpress
Redrick, M. (9 April, 2015) Why Women Compete With Other Women, Huffington Post
Sheppard, L.D. and Aquino, K. (2017) A Theory of Female Same-Sex Conflict and Its Problematization in Organizations, June 2014, Journal of Management, 43 (3), pg. 691-715
Statista (2018) Share of Americans Who Have Been Victims of Sexual Harassment as of 2017, Statista
Workplace Bullying Institute (2017) 2017 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, Workplace Bullying Institute