February 21, 2014
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Bystanders Choice #4: Should Bystanders Tell an Adult?
Ruchika Tulshyan , Contributor
Women can be nastier bullies than men, at the workplace. What’s the best way to deal?
A Bully Free Zone sign - School in Berea, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When Lady Gaga declared her hero was Emily-Anne, the 18-year-old pioneer of WeStopHate.org against teen bullying, I could completely identify. I had a flashback to my traumatic adolescent years. The memories alone made me feel like Emily-Anne could be my hero too.
However, I didn’t expect bullying to be so prevalent at the workplace. Adults are facing it pretty tough, with woman-on-woman harassment on the rise. Thirty-five percent of Americans reported being bullied at work, according to a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute. Women make much nastier office bullies than men, says psychologist Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Institute.
Workplace bullying is four times more common than sexual harassment and racial discrimination, found the same study. Girls are taught to be critical about each other from adolescence, and it’s particularly vicious among working women; from playing favourites to badmouthing colleagues. Common careers where women face bullying? Law, finance or any other job where “women feel the need to be hyper-aggressive to get ahead in a male-dominated environment,” says Dr. Namie.
Debra Falzoi, a communications coordinator who was terrorized by a female boss at a Boston University, says:
“My female bully lied and gossiped about me and others. She used all indirect tactics. I have seen men also use indirect bullying tactics, but they’re much less frequent, and they have seemed solely to protect their ego rather than proactive moves to sabotage.
Falzoi eventually quit her job after reporting the harassment. Her boss did nothing, despite multiple complaints against the same woman.
Samantha Brick, a British journalist, wrote a story titled: ‘There are downsides to looking this pretty’: Why women hate me for being beautiful. ‘ It went viral, supplemented by comments questioning her beauty. Some readers even called her “ugly as a troll.” I’m not going to debate her story, but I thought the Financial Times Weekend published the best response to the media maelstrom. The controversy showed how women sabotage the careers of other women by being unsupportive, it said. The columnist highlighted “rope ladders,” where women climb to senior positions, then promptly haul up the ladder right behind them. While some tactically avoid helping other women in their careers, others can resort to passive-agressive behavior to protect their interests.
“Women bullies will often befriend you and then air all your secrets later, in boardrooms or at office gatherings. I’ve had patients that just can’t trust again after being humiliated like that at work,” says Dr. Namie. The problem persists, as there are no anti-bullying ethics or law in practice, unlike legal protection against sexual harassment or racial discrimination. Less than one percent of co-workers will stand up when they see their colleagues tormented, fearing their own jobs.
There’s only one truly effective way to report workplace bullying: treat it like a business problem. Dr. Namie says:
“Report to your superiors and make it a business case on how the bully is affecting your productivity and driving up absenteeism. The minute you talk about how emotionally traumatized you are, you’re unlikely to get any help.”
Your managers could brush it off by saying it’s a cultural difference or clash of ideas, he says. Follow your instincts if you think you’re in a hostile work environment, and report it the right way. The only time when you should leave your job without making a case is if you work in a small family-run business, according to him.
Have you ever been bullied at work? Is there a difference between male and female bullies, in your experience?
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