Hectoring & heckling

Hectoring & heckling

WORKPLACE BULLIES :Womens brigade prefers to pick on birds of their own kind, finds study

Yelling, scheming and sabotaging:

all are tell-tale signs that a bully is at work, laying traps for employees at every pass. During this downturn, as stress levels rise, workplace researchers say, bullies are likely to sharpen their elbows and ratchet up their attacks.
It’s probably no surprise that most of these bullies are men, as a survey by Workplace Bullying Institute, an advocacy group, makes clear. But a good 40 per cent of bullies are women. And at least the male bullies take an egalitarian approach, mowing down men and women pretty much in equal measure. The women appear to prefer their own kind, choosing other women as targets more than 70 per cent of the time. What is going on here? Just the mention of women treating other women badly on the job seemingly shakes the women’s movement to its core. It is what Peggy Klaus, an executive coach in Berkeley, Calif., has called “the pink elephant” in the room.

Quite antithetical

How can women break through the glass ceiling if they are ducking verbal blows from other women in cubicles, hallways and conference rooms?
Women don’t like to talk about it because it is “so antithetical to the way that we are supposed to behave to other women,” Klaus said. “We are supposed to be the nurturers and the supporters.”  Ask women about run-ins with other women at work and some will point out that people of both sexes can misbehave. Others will nod in instant recognition and recount examples of how women — more so than men — have mistreated them. “I’ve been sabotaged so many times in the workplace by other women, I finally left the corporate world and started my own business,” said Roxy Westphal, who runs promotional products company Roxy Ventures Inc.
She recalls the sting of an interview she had with a woman 30 years ago that “turned into a one-person firing squad” and led her to leave the building in tears.
Jean Kondek, who recently retired after 30-year career in advertising, recalled her anger when an administrator in a small agency called a meeting to dress her down in front of co-workers for not following agency procedure in a client emergency.
Many women who are still in the work force were hesitant to speak out publicly for fear of making matters worse or of jeopardising their careers. A private accountant said she recently joined a company and was immediately frozen out by two women working there. One even pushed her in the cafeteria during an argument. “It’s as if we’re back in high school,” she said.

The glass ceiling

A senior executive said she had “finally broken the glass ceiling” only to have another woman gun for her job by telling management, “I can’t work for her, she’s passive-aggressive.” The strategy worked: The executive said she soon lost the job to her accuser.
One reason women choose other women as targets “is probably some idea that they can find a less confrontative person or someone less likely to respond to aggression with aggression,” said Gary Namie, research director for Workplace Bullying Institute, which ordered the study in 2007.
But another dynamic may be at work. After five decades of striving for equality, women make up more than 50 per cent of management, professional and related occupations, says Catalyst, nonprofit research group. And yet, its 2008 census found, only 15.7 per cent of Fortune 500 officers and 15.2 per cent of directors were women.
Leadership specialists wonder, are women being “overly aggressive” because there are too few opportunities for advancement? Or is it stereotyping and women are only perceived as being overly aggressive? Is there a double standard at work?
Research on gender stereotyping from Catalyst suggests that no matter how women choose to lead, they are perceived as “never just right.” What’s more, the group found, women must work twice as hard as men to achieve the same level of recognition and prove they can lead. “If women business leaders act consistent with gender stereotypes, they are considered too soft,” the group found in a 2007 study. “If they go against gender stereotypes, they are considered too tough.”
“Women are trying to figure out the magical keys to the kingdom,” said Laura Steck, president of Growth & Leadership Centre and executive leadership coach. Women feel they have to be aggressive to be promoted, she said, and then they keep it up. Then, suddenly, they see the need to be collegial and collaborative instead of competitive.

Aggressive behaviour

Joel H Neuman, a researcher at State University of New York, says most aggressive behaviour at work is influenced by a number of factors associated with bullies, victims and the situations in which they work.
 “This would include issues related to frustration, personality traits, perceptions of unfair treatment, and assortment of stresses and strains associated with today’s leaner and ‘meaner’ work settings,” he said.
Bullying involves verbal or psychological forms of aggressive (hostile) behaviour that persists for six months or longer.  The Workplace Bullying Institute says that 37 per cent of workers have been bullied. Yet many employers ignore the problem, which hits the bottom line in turnover, health care and productivity costs. Litigation is rare, the institute says, because there is no directly applicable law to cite and costs are high.
Two Canadian researchers recently set out to examine the bullying that pits women against women.
They found that some women may sabotage one another because they feel that helping their female co-workers could jeopardise their own careers. In the workplace, however, it is unlikely that women will constantly think of themselves as members of one group.
They will more likely see themselves as individuals, as they are judged by their performance. “As a result, women may not feel a need to help one another,” the researchers say. “They may even feel that in order to get ahead, they need to bully their co-workers by withholding information like promotion opportunities, and that women are easier to bully than men because women are supposedly less tough than men.”
As Televerde Director (Sales Operations) Michelle Cirocco sums it the root cause is that women are taught to fight with one another for attention at an early age. “We’re competing with our sisters for dad’s attention, or for our brother’s attention.” said. “And then we go on in school and we’re competing for our teachers’ attention. We’re competing to be on the sports team or the cheer squad.”
“As we get into corporate world,” Cirocco notes, “we’re taught or we’re led to believe that we don’t get ahead because of men. But, we really don’t get ahead because of ourselves. Instead of building each other up and showcasing each other, we’re constantly tearing each other down.”
“The time has come,” she said, “for us to really deal with this relationship that women have to women, because it truly is preventing us from being as successful in the workplace as we want to be and should be. We’ve got enough obstacles; we don’t need to pile on any more.”

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