Help We Don’t Need Regarding Bullies and Women’s Careers

I came across an old article today, the May 10, 2009 Sunday Business section of the New York Times.  Entitled “Backlash: Women Bullying Women,” the article laid out the problem of women’s bullying, postulated reasons for it, and offered solutions. I found it disappointing on several levels.

First, the article cited a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute that says “a good 40 percent” of workplace bullies are women and that women tend to “prefer their own kind, choosing other women as targets more than 70 percent of the time.” (Men, on the other hand, are more equal opportunity bullies, “mowing down men and women pretty much in equal measure.”)

This bullying of women by women is referred to as “the pink elephant in the room” by a California executive coach who wonders how women can break through the glass ceiling if they are “ducking verbal blows from other women in cubicles, hallways and conference rooms.”

Oh, how I wish women could get past the glass ceiling mindset! Now we need to be fending off attacks at every turn? How many barriers—real or imagined—must women continue to learn about and rail against? How much energy do we have for this?

Next, bad behavior is chronicled, with comments from a variety of sabotaged women across the land. Reasons for this bullying are postulated: Gender stereotypes create inequality in leadership positions—men hold more of them and that’s not fair. Double standards with regard to aggressive behavior among men and women set women off. No matter what women do, it’s “never just right.”

On top of this, companies simply don’t address bullying at work and it costs them in higher turnover, higher health care costs, and reduced productivity.

What to do?

Well, let’s study it. Researchers from the State University of New York at New Paltz and Wayne State University “have developed a questionnaire to identify the full range of behaviors that can constitute bullying, which could help companies uncover problems that largely go unreported.

Their 29 questions include: Over the past 12 months, have you regularly: been glared at in a hostile manner, been given the silent treatment, been treated in a rude or disrespectful manner, or had others fail to deny false rumors about you?”

Stop right there. A visit to the grocery store on any given day with an average wait in line will likely expose you to every one of these behaviors, either directly or as overheard conversations between cashiers and baggers.

What value could there possibly be in asking women to keep track of these incidents? More to the point, what might these distractions prevent them from noticing or doing that would actually advance their learning and enhance their contributions on the job?

The article continues with additional researchers, programs, and hypotheses about why women are so mean to women at work.

Bottom line: We’re taught at an early age to compete for attention and we never quite get over it. So we’d better track it, report it, and hope our companies are wise enough to do something about it.

Articles like this suggest that learning to deal with bullies is more important to a woman’s career health and longevity than making herself knowledgeable, useful and productive.

The article makes me shake my head. Thanks for the insight. This is help we do not need.

Categories: Women

About Susan Marshall

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Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.