A bully is a bully is a bully, you’d think. But the truth is that not all bullies are made equal. Whereas men bullies tend to be equal opportunity aggressors, women bullies mostly bully other women. Yes. Unfortunately, according to a recent study, 80% of the bullying in the workplace conducted by women is directed at other women.
It’s hard to fathom why this would be, but once you start looking carefully at the current trend of bullying in the workplace, it starts making sense.
What are some of the reasons for women to direct bullying in the workplace towards their gender mates?
The concept of the queen bee syndrome was coined in the 1970s following a study at the University of Michigan where three researchers found that women who achieved success in male-dominated industries were sometimes likely to oppose the rise of other women. According to the article the researchers published, this phenomenon took place in large part due to the predominantly male work culture, which encouraged the few successful women who made it to the top to maintain their authority.
In male-dominated fields, women are led to believe that there are only a limited number of positions available to them. Convinced of the scarcity of opportunities, they defend their privileged positions by closing the door to all other women. In addition, in companies were most of the employees are men those women who make it often believe that if they help other women, the men in their organizations will see them as operating counter to their culture, which can make women lose their place in the boy’s club.
Another less discussed factor is that women are less likely to confront the woman bullying them in the workplace than men are. In other words, women are easier targets for bullies, because they tend to take the aggression quietly. And finally, we should take into consideration situations in which women employees don’t respond well to women bosses and undermine their authority with a lack of respect and a bad attitude. What they might take as a sign of leadership from a male boss they interpret as bitchy from a female boss. When these kinds of behaviors affect the woman boss’s ability to lead, she might turn it around and start bullying in the workplace to assert her authority.
Signs that women are bullying in the workplace
Women’s style of bullying in the workplace can take a variety of formats. As women in general tend to be less confrontational than men, some of the tactics they use are less easily identifiable by an external observer as bullying in the workplace. Yet, they are just as damaging as the tactics men might use.
Here are some signs to watch out for:
- Underhanded comments about how you are dressed: “You’ve just come from the beach, haven’t you?”
- Comments about your intelligence: “Please put on your smart cap for a moment.”
- Playing hot / cold to keep you on your toes. One day she pulls you in to share something private and the next day she purposefully keeps you out of a meeting you should have been included in.
- She gossips about you behind your back, creates untrue stories about you, suggests you might not be a good fit for projects that you know you’d be perfect for. In other words, erodes your reputation.
- The woman in question is much more demanding of other women than of men in the organization.
7 steps to combat bullying in the workplace by another woman
First and foremost, recognize you’re being bullied. This is the first step to recovering your self-esteem, which is likely hurting from the ongoing workplace bullying you’ve been subjected to. It’s key to realize that it is not your fault that you’re being bullied.
- Begin a careful investigation among the women in your group, team, or department who deal with the woman giving you grief. Find out if anyone else feels the way you do. Find out if anyone has discovered an effective way to deal with the bully.
- Seek the help of a mentor outside of your department to avoid conflicts. If the woman doing the bullying in the workplace is your boss, carefully evaluate who could be a good mentor who would not take what you say back to the bully.
- Prepare for and set up a conversation with the woman who is bullying you. Calmly explain how her behavior is affecting you. Remain rational and calm, as bullies tend to enjoy inflicting emotional pain on their victims. Give concrete examples. “Laura, when you bring me into your confidence one day and you keep me out of an important meeting the next, I feel confused. I would very much appreciate if we could figure out a way to align our goals so I can support your agenda more effectively.”
- Keep a journal of all interactions and document everything. Print and save emails, voice mails and any other communication that could be useful in the future if you decided to bring your case to HR.
- If the help you receive from your mentor or your conversation with the bully is not enough to stop the bullying in the workplace, set up a conversation with Human Resources. But be aware that they don’t need to keep your conversation confidential, so treat it as if they were going to report it back to the bully.
- If everything else fails, you might need to consider making a lateral move or leaving the company altogether.
Your health and wellbeing should always come first. So if you can’t stop bullying in the workplace, and you can’t find anyone who cares, your next step may need to be out the door.