Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Women Bullying Other Women

The New York Times reported this past Sunday that while men are 'equal opportunity' bullies, women are more than twice as likely to bully other women in the workplace. The results of a Zogby study jointly with the Workplace Bullying Institute are also discussed on the WBI website. More than a third of employees in the workplace reported victimization by bullies; 57% of those victims are women, and bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal harassment.

The study is disturbing enough. Most of us have been dealing with bullies of one sort or another since we were in elementary school; we recognize that it is a fact of life that bullies exist in all walks of life, in the online world and on your local interstate highway. But one of the more disturbing aspects is how women seem to target other women. Surely the stress and strain of having to be better than their male counterparts just to be treated equally creates an environment where women may behave in a more organizationally aggressive manner.

The New York Times article suggests that woman-on-woman bullying may be more of a reaction to a discomfort level, rather than learned or hard-wired behavior. Women have had to compete for attention and stature, and are more likely to take on their own, since women are typically less confrontational.

I find myself frustrated by what this phenomenon may mean. I believe that the 'business model' is the best argument for diversity (a diverse workplace accomplishes the job better than a non-diverse one); but sometimes the solution can create other problems --- the theory of unintended consequences. But I also currently have at least two cases in my law practice which involve some measure of woman-on-woman bullying. I have handled countless more cases which have involved bullying of some kind which may have even been 'mis-classified' as unlawful discrimination.

Until workplaces realize the incredible cost by way of reduced productivity and increased liability that bullying generates, we are likely to see more studies, and more articles like this.

I would love to hear my readers thoughts and experiences on workplace bullying. Is there a way out?

UPDATE: The American Lawyer just published a piece about 'Sisterhood in the Legal Profession and also observed that women attorneys encounter bullying by their women supervisors. "[W]omen -- particularly their immediate supervisors -- can be their worst tormentors," the writer noted.


Post a Comment