June 7th, 2009
How a woman becomes a bully
Yet another story with the woman-on-woman bullying angle. However, UK Andrea Adams Trust director Lyn Wetheridge makes the more important point that the recession has increased bullying. Andrea Adams coined the phrase “workplace bullying” in Britain and led the movement until her death. The AA Trust is the forerunner to the American WBI.
How A Woman Becomes a Bully
More employees are suffering at their colleagues’ hands
By Carly Chynoweth and Tariq Tahi
The Sunday Times (London)
June 7, 2009
It would be nice to think that in hard times colleagues pull together to support each other but in some organisations the opposite is true.
The Andrea Adams Trust, a charity that fights against bullying at work, says the recession has led to a sharp rise in the number of people seeking help. At the same time, many employees say they are too scared of losing their jobs to risk doing anything about it, according to Lyn Witheridge, the trust’s chief executive.
She estimates that there has been a 50% rise in the number of calls coming in to the charity’s help line since the recession hit. “That’s a big increase,” she said. “And many of the callers are really worried about their jobs and say that they don’t want to raise grievances – they just want support.”
Even in good times, victims of bullying can find it hard to complain, but now they are so worried about being branded as troublemakers that they simply put up with it. “People are more afraid about speaking up because they are worried about what it might mean for their job and their mortgage,” she said. This in turn means that bullies have a much freer rein. “The recession means that workplaces have become almost a playground for bullies,” said Witheridge.
And, just as teachers discuss whether boys or girls make the worst playground bullies, questions are being raised about whether male and female bullies act differently at work. Much of this has been sparked by a recent New York Times article which reported that, while men make up the majority of bullies, women bullies pick on other women 71% of the time.
Julie Morris at Russell, Jones & Walker, the law firm, said that men and women exhibit different bullying styles. “Female bullying can be a bit more subtle, whereas male bullies throw their weight around without really being aware of their actions,” she said.
She believes that bullying of women by their female bosses can often arise from friction about issues such as childcare.
“I have seen circumstances when there is a woman who has sorted out her own childcare arrangements in a way that suits her [without] necessarily being understanding about another woman,” she said. “For instance ‘I have a nanny, why can’t you do the same?’ or ‘I took six months’ maternity leave, why do you think you need a year?’.”
Lisa Clark, 33, a PR consultant, experienced difficulties with a woman manager in a previous job. “It is a tenet of PR that each agency should have at least one woman with a gigantic ego who is unbearable to work with and a complete bullying maniac,” she said. “I’ve never worked with a bullying bloke in PR – only other women.
“I once worked with a woman who would do everything, from taking credit for your work and blaming you for everything that went wrong to being rude to your face in front of clients. I was driven into a position where I wasn’t able to have my own ideas because she said it was undermining her and her authority.
“When it came to things like the hours we worked, there was one rule for her and one for everyone else.”
Sharon Mavin, associate dean at Newcastle Business School, turns the issue round. “Is it bullying or is it just a woman not meeting another woman’s expectations?” she said.
Mavin argues that we associate many of the characteristics of leadership – assertiveness, ambition and so forth – with masculinity, while women are expected to be helpful, friendly and compassionate. When people do not conform to these stereotypes, it jolts our expectations.
“If you look at the research, it’s not a surprise to me that women would perceive other women to be picking on them, because women have very different expectations of other women at work than they do of men,” said Mavin. “Women react to men bosses as bosses but react to women bosses as women.
“Great strides have been made since the 1970s but there are still gender stereotypes that we all use and they drive our expectations of how people behave.” In other words, what might be seen as acceptable behaviour in a man might not be acceptable in women.
Some women believe that being bullied by another woman has a different psychological effect too. One woman who left her job as an office administrator at an engineering con-sultancy after being bullied, said: “I feel that if it was a man I could almost turn round and tell him to get lost, but I felt I couldn’t do that to another woman,” she said. “It was difficult to deal with because it was so unexpected. You don’t expect it from a female who has a family. That’s what was strange.”
Ultimately, however, bullying is about power. The idea that women in authority are supposed to see other women as their sisters but actually treat them with disdain makes a good story – it was the basis of The Devil Wears Prada, the best-selling book and hit film. However, this ignores other statistics from the same research, which show that 32% of all bullying is man-on-man, 29% is woman-on-woman, 28% is man-on-woman, and 11% woman-on-man – 60% of all bullies are men.
Indeed, Witheridge believes that the figures can largely be explained by the fact that most bullies tend to be managers and that most managers tend to be men. When women are in positions of authority it is often in female-dominated professions, which could mean that women bullies target women simply because that’s who is at hand.
“It reflects the make-up of the workforce, not a deliberate choice by women to pick on other women.” What’s important is not worrying about the sex of the people doing the bullying but how it can be stopped, said Witheridge.
The statistics quoted in this UK article are not from the NY Times, but from the WBI-Zogby survey of adult Americans.
This entry was posted on Sunday, June 7th, 2009 at 9:30 am and is filed under WBI in the News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.