Who Does She Think She Is?

Recently, my community experienced yet another tragic example of schoolyard bullying leading to suicide. A young girl at my son’s middle school took her own life, following alleged repeated bullying by her classmates. As you can imagine, this tragic incident has brought bullying back to the spotlight. Hopefully, it means parents will have meaningful discussions with their children about the impact of bullying. But, it has me wondering how many parents have the ability to have those discussions? How many of them are bullies themselves? I believe bullying is a learned behavior that I have experienced myself as an adult.

According to a 2010 office survey, thirty five percent of American workers say they experience bullying in the workplace. In fact, workplace bullying is four times more common than sexual harassment and racial discrimination, found the same study. Women more frequently engage in behaviors such as sabotage and abuse of authority, as compared to the more observable form of verbal abuse engaged in by the guys. (Source: Workplace Bullying Institute).

“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 psychologist Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Institute.

All that sneakiness makes it harder to report, too. How do you tell your boss you’re being talked about and picked on without coming off as a whiner? Even worse when the bully is your boss. Been there, done that, got the dagger marks.

At the risk of sounding cliche, why can’t we all just go to work, do our jobs, and get along? What are the root causes of workplace bullying, and why does it happen more often to women?

“From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to compete,” said author Sophia Nelson in interview with CNN. “I need to be prettier, taller, smarter, my hair needs to be straighter, curlier, whatever it is. I need to get the better looking guy. I need to always be better than because we’re taught to come from a place of lack as women.”

Perhaps we are threatened by one another and view other women in the workplace as competition. Despite all of the progress we’ve made, women still hold less than 20% of all board seats in corporate America, fewer than one-fifth of Fortune 500 companies have 25% or more women directors, and ten percent of companies have no women on their boards (Forbes).

The fact is, ladies, by constantly cutting each other down, we set our entire gender back. As Washington Post writer Selena Rezvani writes:

While workplace studies show women are routinely underestimated compared to men, we don’t give much credence to the fact that women hampering other women is also to blame…. Many of us have witnessed the man who comments on a woman’s hotness just as she leaves the room. But what about the woman who criticizes another’s appearance (Did you see what she was wearing in there?) or frowns on a woman’s unapologetic use of power (Just who does she think she is?)?

Maybe once we reach a certain level in our careers, we develop what Rezvani calls “sexism amnesia,” where we forget what it’s like to be the young inexperienced and underestimated girl. Or are we simply overcompensating? I’ve had female bosses that I felt were trying entirely too hard to be “one of the boys.”

So, let’s hear your office war stories. We all have them. Do men and women bully differently? How do we break the cycle and teach our children…and our co-workers…that bullying is not OK?

(Nelson’ five tips on how women can work with as opposed to against each other: http://www.ksl.com/?nid=1010&sid=33971183)

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