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.
Regardless of gender identity, many people have experienced competitiveness, lack of support, undermining as well as hazing and harassment on the job. The term “King Wasp” has been used in reference to Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly axing his company’s popular flexible work program named “Results-Only Work Environment” or ROWE. Currently, in the time of Covid, labor shortages favor ROWE and flexible work arrangements that eliminate tedious, unnecessary commutes. Just today (February 2022) I have heard another story of a seemingly ego-centric move by a boss (being more boss than leader) requiring her direct reports to commute to the office on Mondays at 9 a.m. and Fridays, at the end of the day, simply to report out on the weeks work. The gatherings appear to serve little purpose, duplicated communication already happening on required electronic reports and caused resentment and even open rebellion by senior staff who refused to come to the meetings. An additional twist was that the “boss lady” lived close to the workplace, yet had little sympathy for her direct reports who had commutes of over an hour or even two. The nature of their work required travel elsewhere, earning the twice weekly corporate commute to be viewed by her team as very low value, frustrating task. Did people on her team leave? Yes. Is ROWE making a comeback in 2022, the Covid-era? Yes it is.
(This post was updated in 2022 with Covid references and more current gender specific terms.)
Poor leadership is one thing. It escalates to a new level when the boss engages in an series of aggressive acts targeted at one person. It could be a form of professional, or even personal jealousy. The offenders may want what you have, especially if you appear, in their mind’s eye, as more intelligent in meetings, or are younger, more fit, more attractive 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 highlighted, 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% of men.Paying It Forward Pays Back for Business Leaders – Catalyst . org
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.The Wall Street Journal, March 2013
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.
Is it changing yet in 2022? Two quotes from two Catalyst presidents…
“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, 2013
…gender equity has taken a major step backward during the pandemic. Globally, women lost more than 64 million jobs in 2020—or 5% of all jobs held by women—according to Oxfam International. Women’s labor participation in the US hit a 33-year low in January 2021.Lorraine Hariton, President & CEO, Catalyst, 2022
As to the motivations and context for adult bullies and women in particular, it appears that bullies share certain motivations — a need for attention, fear of competition, anger at the way they’re treated at home. 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.
At the time of this original post, 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.
It was sobering to see that the topic of workplace bullying filled the room. We dug into the topic and available research for two hours.
The most frequent form of workplace aggression is not physical, it is emotional and psychological in nature.Loraleigh Keashly, Ph.D., Wayne State University
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 pg
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, 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.
I was both moved and appalled as I listened to stories and struggles by those who already were 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 their workloads while dealing with harassment or bullying. The peer network information from the presentation 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. We need to do what we can to help each other succeed. Now, during a Covid-era world, it’s more important than ever to support good leadership and eliminate workplace abuses.
Thanks to Lisa Mangigian for organizing and to Stephanie Stiles for photography supporting at the session at the Center for Independent Living in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Don’t just stand for the success of other women – insist on it.”Gail Blanke, President and CEO, Lifedesigns
Take action to learn more. Have a chat about improving your organization’s knowledge of what’s next in the Covid-era, as well as learning more about Deb’s services to help your organization thrive. Contact Deb via these options. We love comments, so also feel free to share what you think about bullying in the 2020 decade and efforts to deal with it.
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