April 12th, 2011
Research Finds Most Workplace Bullying Victims Are Women
by Natalie Morera, Diversity Executive, April 12, 2011
After a year and a half of working at a Florida-based library, Maury Middlebrooks found herself to be a victim of workplace bullying. “It’s really embarrassing,” Middlebrooks said. “People think that it’s just a thing about [people not liking you], and you’re being such a baby because you just can’t take them not liking you.”
Maury Middlebrooks’ experience is unfortunately one all too common in the workforce today.
Research conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute has found that 35 percent of U.S. workers report being bullied at work, and an additional 15 percent have witnessed it. Further, 68 percent of bullying is same-gender harassment; 58 percent of bullying targets are women; and 80 percent of the time, female bullies target other women, as in Middlebrooks’ case.
According to Middlebrooks, when she started working at the library, some female coworkers gave her the cold shoulder and began to make rude remarks about her.
Her coworkers would allegedly talk over her and ignore her requests for help at work. Conversation would cease whenever she walked into a room, Middlebrooks said. She also alleges that phone messages were never given to her.
“When I would need a book out of a particular section for a patron, I would come in and ask if anyone knew where that book was, or if [a] particular person knew where the book was, and they would just ignore me as if I wasn’t even talking,” she said.
The behavior, Middlebrooks said, began to make her feel uncomfortable about asking for assistance at work. Although she enjoyed her job, the behavior began to affect her work.
“I was really happy to work there because I love books,” she said.
Middlebrooks spoke with multiple supervisors, and an internal investigation was conducted in her department, but her claim of bullying was dismissed in late March. She has since quit her job.
Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, has been working with those subjected to workplace bullying since 1997 after his wife, Ruth, was bullied by a coworker. In her case, the aggressor was also a woman.
“When you hear the infinite variety of cruelty that women foist on other women — it’s unbelievable,” he said. “It never lets up. Women are very clear that the main tormentors are women.”
Namie said in his experience, women tend to be open with jealousy and envy. He also said they are hypersensitive and hypercritical, focusing on tiny details. Those details are then used as a basis to “tear into each other.”
“I think it comes from the way girls are socialized compared to boys,” he said. “There’s a gender difference there.”
Namie said he finds the emphasis on woman-on-woman bullying is larger than male-on-male. “We have a tacit approval of an automatic acceptance of male-on-male aggression at work,” he said.
But it may not only be about gender. Namie also credits the American style of management.
“The style in the C-suite that enables bullying is laissez-faire,” he said, meaning executives tend to take a hands-off approach to addressing bullying. This indifference to bullying lets it thrive.
“It’s either positively rewarded in the militaristic, command-and-control model — people revered for their aggression — or it’s treated with indifference, and therefore that’s tacit approval and it’s allowed to continue,” Namie said. “In either case, bullying is done with impunity because it’s so rarely stopped. Rarely does management intervene and actually say this is destructive for people, employee health and the organization.”
According to Namie, bullying affects business in the form of turnover and absenteeism. It can generate lawsuits, as well as workers’ compensation and disability costs, he said.
“They all get away with it,” he said. “Bullies bully with impunity. They almost always get rewarded. That’s what’s sad.”
Middlebrooks turned to the Workplace Bullying Institute a few months ago for help and now has volunteered to get the Healthy Workplace Bill passed in Florida. The bill is spearheaded by Namie.
Middlebrooks also wants to help others by giving them knowledge or getting them involved. “It would make me feel like it wasn’t all for nothing,” she said.
Natalie Morera is associate editor at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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