I was very happy to see that in a recent NY Times article, the widespread phenomenon of women bullying other women at work was explored in depth. It touched on the various factors that contribute to and exacerbate women bullying women, and I’d like to add my two cents.
In my 18-year corporate life, I experienced a great deal of bullying from women, most of which came from female bosses and a handful of “equals” in the political hierarchy. These experiences were traumatic, and I had no clue how to effectively navigate through them, mostly because they were so surprising and painful, and also because these women wielded great power and authority in the organization. It felt like these ladies were “out to get me” or simply relished being cruel, but I always questioned how or why this could be.
I was, for the most part, strong and authoritative at work, and often, that strength would beget jealousy and anger from my female coworkers (interestingly, not from my male colleagues or bosses, who seemed to enjoy and respect the strength and confidence).
Once, one of my female counterparts in marketing indicated to me – in a cruel way – that an email I had sent to senior management (about my belief that we needed to explore a new business model as the current one was at risk of obsolescence), had been the “nail in my coffin.” I hadn’t known I was in a coffin! I realize now that she was an active participant in building this “coffin” and driving the nail even further with her mighty hammer!
Please don’t get me wrong – I’m no saint. I did my share of back-stabbing too. But after years of work (therapy training helped!), I’ve gained critical awareness of when I’m at risk of putting other women down. Also, I feel better about myself than I did in the past, which makes room for empathy and compassion rather than cruelty. I have a new-found vigilance about not allowing that cruel, back-stabbing, insecure little girl in me get the better of me, when I feel afraid or threatened. I slip up sometimes, but I’m working on it.
So why do women hurt other women at work? I could write a whole book about this, but I believe there are some potent underlying reasons:
· Women are experiencing enormous pressure and stress (more now than ever), and haven’t learned effective ways to deal with it, so they turn on others
· Women target other women because they feel insecure, and also believe women won’t fight back as hard as men will
· Women continually feel threatened and anxious in their positions in the workplace, and have a mentality of “it’s you or me” with regard to women
· Corporations, from the top, often encourage this type of competitive warfare and infighting
· There are precious few forums for women at work to experience each other as supportive, empathetic, and encouraging
· From an early age, girls/women have been culturally trained to deal with their anger and insecurity through insidious ways — back-stabbing and gossiping, etc. — rather than dealing with their problems and conflicts head-on, directly, and overtly.
I’d love to see in my lifetime a reversal of this damaging trend for women at work (and in the world at large). Can women evolve, stretch, and grow to the point where their deepest wish is to help and support other women, rather than hurt and diminish them? Can they learn to deal with their own insecurities and anxieties in more positive ways?
What do you think is at the heart of women bullying women at work, and what can we do about it? Please share – we need to fuel a powerful dialog on this issue, and continue to create positive movement.