Bullying by Women in the Workplace – Part 2
The sabotaging of women BY womenAs part of my series of bullying by women in the work place started in
“Bitch or Bully: The Pink Elephant“
I am exploring a number of complex and often confusingly over lapping issues. I have consulted a global network of HR professionals, lawyers, bullying specialists, psychologists as well as executive coaches and leaders. My LinkedIn poll “Have you experienced bullying in the workplace by a woman?” is still running. Please take it if you haven’t already! Interestingly, although the numbers have been slowly climbing, the percentage analysis has remained consistent . 51% of those polled claim they have personally been bullied by a woman and 25% indicate that they have witnessed it.
These figures reflect all the statistics I have seen elsewhere, dashing my hopes once and for all of disproving their theories. It would seem that despite the increasing number of females in the workplace, many statistics suggest that the business environment has become potentially a more hostile place for many women.
How could this be?
Isabella Lenarduzzi , the founder of Blog Jump, a Belgian organisation for the advancement of women in the workplace makes this comment: “ Studies have shown that relationships can either be the best or the worst thing to happen to women at work: women have a greater capacity than men to affect one another’s professional performance–with better results for all if their interaction is good, and worse results if it is not.”
So what happens when interaction is not good?
Research also shows that women bully other women 2.5 times more frequently than they target men. The bullying weapons of choice in our arsenal tend to be sabotage and the abuse of authority, carried out either subtly or covertly behind closed doors. Women are apparently also more likely to elicit the support of other women, either tacitly or actively, isolating the victim with the creation of a “mascara mafia”, adding further to her distress and feelings of alienation. So our WMD are vocabulary, body language, voice tone, isolation, humiliation and unreasonable or inappropriate demands. You might remember the experiences of my client Jane. Her case it seems is classic text-book and could be taken straight from the syllabus for Bullying 101. The irony is therefore not only are we more likely to be bullied by a man, women are also out ranking men in the harassment of their own gender
This type of bullying, known by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization as the “silent epidemic,” is four times more prevalent than illegal, discriminatory harassment. Since it is not considered illegal, even when reported, HR departments or employers rarely take action. Very often they know what is going on, but choose to ignore it. As female bullying is usually not physically abusive, but still no less damaging, it is more difficult to audit and also to prove. Very often (as in Jane’s case) it is accompanied by unsupportive comments about a need to be less sensitive and more assertive.
So one bemused question has popped up throughout this research: Isn’t life tough enough for us you ask?
Why do we women sabotage each other?
Sharon Eden offers one explanation:
” Sociological research has indicated it seems to be a biological imperative that women compete for the ‘best’ male so that their offspring are more likely to survive. This spills over into the executive suite where men still predominate and some psychologically unaware women wipe out the female ‘opposition’ for male attention”
So at some primal sub-conscious level in our lipstick jungle, it would appear that we are clearly brushing down our business suits and sharpening our French manicures in order to compete for the attention of the best males, by annihilating any actual or perceived threats …anyway we can. As these men tend to be found at the top of the pyramid the “battle” intensifies. Research on bully behaviour and harassment at the Workplace Bullying Institute also suggests that regardless of gender, bullying is deeply rooted in insecurity resulting in a need for power and control, with the perpetrator seeking out a perceived weaker employee to dominate. This process actually makes the bully feel better about themselves.
Mary Pearson, who has been writing about bullying for a number of years elaborates “A workplace bully, whether male or female, ensures their intimidation tactics are witnessed. They gain control over a larger group by isolating and victimizing one or two people, more brutally than others. It’s a similar tactic to what a terrorist uses instilling fear in a community through picking a single victim”.
But can it also be that in our desire to get to the top the communication style of women is misunderstood? Can our attempts at being tough turn into bullying? Perhaps we are we caught between the gender stereotyping equivalent of a rock and a hard place. Damned if we do. Damned if we don’t
Isabella suggests ” Women in leadership positions find themselves with an identity dilemma: if they act like a typical male leader, they are perceived as ‘hard’ or ‘cold’, because their behaviour jars with that of the stereotypical woman“
Although this goes someway to explaining some aspects of the problem, the “hard ” approach of mimicking male behaviour, it doesn’t cover the type of pernicious and inexplicable treatment that Jane and so many others experience. As Annabel Kaye Managing Director of UK law firm Irenicon suggested in my last post, many victims are so ground down, they simply resign.
So while we women bleat endlessly about glass ceilings, timidity at the negotiating table, and under representation in a corporate world, there seems to be very strong indications that in many cases we are actually our own worst enemies. The concentration of females in the corporate population hovers below board level. While there are obviously other legitimate factors preventing advancement, it would seem that part of this blockage is that many women directly sabotage their female colleagues or subordinates and therefore ultimately themselves.
At some point we have to take responsibility for this. The question is how.
What do you think?