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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
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