Friday, August 22, 2008

Female Bullying in the Workplace: Mean Girls Grown Up

Bullying Note the gender of the bullies to the left and then consider this recent article in the Financial Post (Canada) discussing the phenomenon of female-on-female bullying in the workplace:

For years, Lynda Cuddy worked in fear of another woman -- her manager. There was a lot of shouting that included being summoned with, "Get over here right now!" If she challenged the treatment, the manager would be livid, accusing her of insubordination. "She'd cut me off whenever I was talking. Anything I had to say had no value. The micromanagement was unbelievable; everything you do is not good enough." . . . .

While a number of women bullied by male bosses have successfully sued in recent years, woman-to-woman bullying is perceived by many as a "personality" issue.

Workplace bullying is, according to a survey conducted for The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) in the United States, four times more prevalent than illegal forms of harassment, with about 37% of workers saying they have been bullied. Most people associate bullying with the patriarchal male boss of the past. Research shows women bully less in the workplace than men, but unlike men, who have no significant gender bias when it comes to their targets, in more than 70% of the cases, their target is another woman.

For Ms. Cuddy, a single mom who needed her job, the fact the person bullying her was another woman made it all the worse. "You tend to expect women to have more empathy and compassion, but she didn't have it. And when she seemed to, it wasn't genuine," she says . . . .

"[Women] have this idea that there is a sort of a sisterhood and we would hope that other women in the workplace would support us, so when instead we are bullied by them, it impacts us differently than when it's coming from a male," says Cheryl Dellasega, author of Mean Girls Grown Up, a book on female relational aggression, which is that type of covert aggression favoured by female bullies, including everything from gossip and lies, to isolation, backstabbing and put-downs or betrayals.

And make no mistake that psychological bullying can be just as bad, if not worse, than the more physical bullying experienced between males.  I have written about this in the school environment, and this is just like Dellasega says, just "mean girls grown up."

Unfortunately, state workplace bullying laws have not gotten off the ground yet and treating this as a same-sex harassment case under Title VII has proven difficult.  Obstacles include showing that a reasonable person would have felt the same way about the harassment as the female employee and that the harassment was "because of" the employee's sex per the Oncale decision.

David Yamada and others have done yeoman work in this area, but more needs to be done to fill in the gaps in employment law to protect workers from having to suffer in these types of workplace environments.

Hat Tip: Dana Nguyen


Workplace Trends | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Female Bullying in the Workplace: Mean Girls Grown Up:


Great article. I am looking forward to more research in this area. One hidden consequence of the bullying, due to the manager-subordinate relationship, is the potential for reduced retirement benefits. The single mother may have kept her job but she may be feeling the impact of the bullying years after her employment ends if the company's defined contribution or defined benefit formulas use a percentage of compensation, and one of her manager's bullying tactics was to negatively evaluate her job performance which resulted in lower annual increases in compensation each year of employment.

Posted by: Suzanne L. Wynn, Esq., LLM Tax. | Aug 25, 2008 3:17:32 PM

Post a comment