Are you experiencing prolonged harassment? It may be that you may have just encountered a bully, or, when adding gender into the mix, experiencing an adult “mean girl.” As the number of women in the workforce and in leadership increases, stress in leadership roles has naturally affected women, as it does men, and can include gender-nuanced displays of ongoing aggression.
Both men and women may experience competitiveness, lack of support, undermining and perhaps some hazing and harassment. The term “King Wasp” has also been used recently, referencing the lesser known action by Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly. He axed the popular and original flexible work program there, named the “Results-Only Work Environment” or ROWE. Time and business results will tell if either Queen or Wasp names are deserved.
Aggressive acts could also be forms of professional, or even personal jealousy. They may want what you have, especially if you are appear as more intelligent in meetings, are younger, more fit, prettier or have some other quality they envy.
“There is no either / or between being competitive and collaborative. You have to be both and decide which in each situation.”
~ Cathie Black, Former Chairman and President, Hearst Magazines, on the realities of corporate business
I first heard the term,”Queen Bee,” at my alma mater, University of Michigan, as a young professional in my 20s. The woman so named had some of the characteristics. However, my experience is that she mentored many, many women successfully, so for her, the term did not stick.
An article by Catalyst highlights, in contrast, that women do indeed help other women get ahead, citing that women leaders are more likely to develop new female talent than men are:
65% percent of women who received career development support are now developing new talent, compared to 56% percent of men—and 73% of the women developing new talent are developing other women, compared to 30 percent of men.
Source: Paying It Forward Pays Back for Business Leaders, Catalyst.org
However, as reported in the Wall Street Journal:
A 2011 survey of 1,000 working women by the American Management Association found that 95% of them believed they were undermined by another woman at some point in their careers.
According to a 2008 University of Toronto study of nearly 1,800 U.S. employees, women working under female supervisors reported more symptoms of physical and psychological stress than did those working under male supervisors.
Source: WSJ, March 2013
“Paying it forward is an essential element of being an outstanding leader, and it benefits everyone involved—it’s a virtuous circle that leads to more of the same.” ~ Ilene H. Lang, President & CEO of Catalyst
As to the motivations and context for adult bullies and women in particular:
…it seems that bullies share certain motivations — need for attention, fear of competition, anger at the way they’re treated at home. And in the long-term, female bullies suffer as much as male bullies, because eventually, those closest to them tire of the manipulations, though there’s a lack of research as to whether female bullies turn to drugs and alcohol and end up in jail at the same rates that male bullies do.
There are a few key differences, though: Male bullies come in all shapes and sizes, from the popular football captain to the social outcast, while female bullies tend to be the popular girls (another factor that may help them escape punishment).
And while some male bullies appear to lash out because they haven’t developed empathy for others, girls seem to possess ample amounts of empathy; so much so, in fact, that they know exactly how to harm a perceived threat.
…female bullies know how to get a fellow female to divulge a secret, and then she knows how to reveal it in a way that will maximize the embarrassment for the victim.
For those who have encountered harassment, a Queen Bee or a bully, here are some resources from a session I taught at the Center for Independent Living in Ann Arbor, using material I gleaned from research and from a Wayne State professor who has special knowledge of workplace aggression and peer witnessing as a method to deal with bullying.
The full collection is on Flickr.com here. It was sobering to also see the topic filled the room. We dug into the topic for two hours.
The most frequent form of workplace aggression is not physical, it is emotional and psychological in nature.
~ Loraleigh Keashly, Ph.D.
Interpersonal and Systemic Aspects of Emotional Abuse at Work: The Target’s Perspective, Violence and Victims, New York: 2001. Vol. 16, Iss. 3; pg. 233, 32 pgs
We discussed the following seven (7) points:
- Realize that as the target of a bully, your power is limited.
- Take great care before using traditional, upward reporting as it could actually make it worse.
- Take notice of the power of your peer networks, including “peer witnesses” of bullying incidents; simply having someone else show up and observe the situation can eliminate the immediate threat.
- Remember that often it really isn’t about you, though the impact of a bully’s behavior is very real.
- Reach out to others outside of the hierarchy for help and perspective. If your organization has a confidential, respected Employee Assistance Program, (EAP), use it!
- Maintain your professionalism at all times.
- Talk with family, friends and your peer networks. They can be a lifeline when the going gets rough.
My experience in teaching on the 7 points:
I was moved and appalled, listening to stories and struggles by those who already dealing with challenges in their lives such as a disability, trauma or condition affecting the way they negotiated workplace demands.
I marveled at how they attempted to cope with those adding harassment or bullying to their workloads. The peer network information and research on what actions to take in a bullying situation seemed to help.
It was also a catharsis for me. I had suffered through a year of bullying at one time in higher education. It was a male supervisor, not a female. Fortunately, a network of female leaders and colleagues and my family supported me during that difficult time.
I told the group, if someone like me, with many resources, a confident personality and a large network of helpful people struggled as I did, even more so we need to help each other when harassment and bullying happens on the job.
Thanks to Lisa Mangigian for her leadership in organizing and following through and to Stephanie Stiles for the blog post on the CIL website, and her photography support at the session.
“Don’t just stand for the success of other women – insist on it.”
~ Gail Blanke, President and CEO, Lifedesigns
Deb continues in her role as President of Reveln Consulting, LLC and welcomes an introductory conversation with you. Contact Deborah Nystrom at 734-846-5631, or email Deb, DebNystrom@REVELN.com
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