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The Bully At Work: The Other Woman

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Ronda Kaysen: Ask me to name the worst people I've ever worked with -- the coworkers or bosses who seemed hellbent on making my life miserable -- and I'd say most of them were women.

female coworker office bully

I've worked with some dastardly men, too, but mainly it's other women who've taken it upon themselves to make my life miserable. I'm going to take a wild guess here and say most women will agree with me on this: women treat women terribly in the office. That glass ceiling we look at every day is covered with claw marks.

The data backs me up.

Although men make up the majority of bullies, women aren't shy about pushing their coworkers around. A good 40 percent of bullies are women, according to a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute. Take a closer look at who these bullies are bullying, and you'll find that male aggressors are equal opportunity jerks -- they cut down men and women pretty evenly. Female bullies, however, harass other women more than 70 percent of the time.

"I've been sabotaged so many times in the workplace by other women, I finally left the corporate world and started my own business," Roxy Westphal, a business owner in Arizona, told The New York Times.

The Times took a hard look at what makes women treat each other so badly at work. The experts they spoke to have a laundry list of explanations, among them being that women think that other women are easier targets than men. Another explanation (and one I find far more plausible) is that although women now make up more than 50 percent of the workforce, only 15.7 percent of Fortune 500 officers and 15.2 percent of directors are women, according to a 2008 census by the research group Catalyst.

Maybe women are part of the problem. Maybe we're living up to the old adage of the crab in the barrel, where one crab tries to climb out of a barrel and all the other doomed crabs drag him (or in this case, her) back down.

"As we get into the corporate world," Michelle Cirocco, director of sales and operations for Televerde, a Phoenix-based company, said, "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."

Peggy Klaus, an executive coach, described the issue as "the pink elephant in the room." "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."

With the economy in the toilet, I imagine office politics will get worse before they get any better. Bullies worried about their own job security will lash out at anyone they perceive as a threat, and their victims will be less likely to speak up.

Tell us your war stories from the office.

next: My Imaginary Six-Figure Salary
33 comments so far | Post a comment now
Danielle Buffardi May 18, 2009, 1:57 PM

Not wanting to sound like the black sheep, but, perhaps we have a lot of “cat fights” in the office with other women because lots of women these days have zero self esteem and can’t deal with anyone being negative towards them.

I’ve worked in tons of offices run by women and men, and yes, women by far are the worst. But I don’t let any of it bother me. Know that you’re able to rise above the none sense. If you ignore the bickering then you can’t be a part of it.

Chrissy May 18, 2009, 2:54 PM

I disagree based on my expeirence. I have never had a female boss tell rauchy sex “jokes” at corporate events or dept meetings. I never had a female boss who thought calling a staff member a “f—-g a——” was motivationally.
Female Sales Director never took clients to strip clubs and brought alone only male sales people. I’ve never seen a female VP ask a female Director to go get coffee (despite the fact said male Director had a secreatary AND administrative assistant).

Danielle Buffardi May 18, 2009, 7:08 PM

Heather May 20, 2009, 10:18 AM

I can both agree and disagree with this post based on my experience, which is not in the corporate world. I had a nano-manager who was extremely difficult to work for. Maybe she felt this way in order to make people respect her. I personally lost all respect for her.

My second boss was totally the opposite. Very helpful and it was a lot of fun to work with/for her.Now that she has left, the three of us who worked for her are ‘fending’ for ourselves. Each of us have different personalities causing conflict among us. I guess you could describe it like the crabs or more like jockeying for position. If you are not assertive enough, people do not think you want a leadership position.

Given the BS that is going on, I have seriously thought about quitting, but due to the limitations in possible jobs, I’m stuck for the time being.

I am uncomfortable with the manner of how some of the women are that I work with, but I may need to be more assertive if I want to be a lead on a project.

Jenny October 17, 2009, 5:36 PM

Daniella I have to disagree with you, in my experience I have found that it’s the female bullies who lack the self esteem and can’t handle anyone being positive or happy with themselves around them.
These women hate to see anyone happier or doing better than they are. Yet female relational aggression is very difficult to challenge because it is very very subtle. It is easy for the female bully to make out it was only a joke or they didn’t say anything if the target tries to call them on it. This is the problem. I have no trouble with ‘masculine’ style in your face bullying, it’s the typically female stab in the back, eye rolling, gossip/rumour mill variety that is the problem. It is incredibly destructive too because reputations have been destroyed and it is worse when the woman is your boss or is in a position of power over your career.
I am now setting up my own business after putting up with years and years of bullying by other women. I’ve changed career several times and I just don’t want to have to do that anymore!

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