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 nmorera@diversity-executive.com.


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 at 10:34 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.

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  1. Jay Jacobus says:

    I can see that female bullies can be different than male bullies. But I think there are some similarities as well.

    Female bullies may adopt masculine traits to get ahead in male dominated businesses. If they use the wrong role model, this make them super agressive.

    Its also true that men and women with with weak femine sides can be brutal and unsympathetic.

    While these insights are explanatory, they do not solve the bullying problem.

  2. TwilightZone says:

    Women get away with bullying because it’s subtle and they can claim the target was “misinterpreting” them. Male managers back them up because they don’t want to get involved and/or they are easily manipulated to take the bully woman’s point of view. Female bullying is chronic and brought on by jealousy, a petty infraction, or hearsay. No detail is forgotten nor forgiven; her disdain for you is forever. I’m speaking as a female target. F-on-F bullying is not taken seriously in society and it’s going to take more than a law to curtail it.

  3. J. says:

    In my personal experience with my current employer, bullying is entirely equal opportunity. There is quite a bit of sex, race, and religious discrimination in my college, but the bullying is gender neutral. Anyone who is well published and ethical is a target. My dean hates lawyers, so my past as an attorney makes me loathed. The dean is a woman, though, as is my department chair. They are both abusive and they are the least ethical people I have ever met (considering some of the people I saw in law practice, that’s saying something). The men in our dean’s administration are just as bad. I believe she looks for crooks and abusers as a job qualification, regardless gender.

    All that said, I have no trouble believing women are more bullied in general. My spouse experienced gender based bullying from male administrators and faculty and general bullying from women.

    • pld says:

      I was bullied physically and verbally by a female division manager and verbally by male division managers. Now that I am retired I feel more free to speak out about it. The physical element consisted of hard hand slapping a table very near me; the verbal comments included demeaning words and requests at public meetings, minimal positive feedback on work in writing and in spoken form. Male bullying included lies about the job for which I was hired, sexist language, demeaning my work publicly and in evaluations. It may be hard to separate sexism from bullying, but bullying can result from sexism. After the female left for another job, a speaker from our office’s Community Relations Division confirmed that the hand slam was indeed bullying; I thought I just had to put up with it and its embarassment. I miss the more positive parts of my life’s profession at work, but I don’t miss any of the bullying. I hope this Institute can help prevent others from suffering at the work place (few promotions actually costing me income then and no in terms of my pension) as I did from the mid 1970’s to the mid 2000’s.

  4. Abigail Venegonia says:

    Female on female bullying is alive and well. Women are mean. I might be sexist, but I’ll admit I have have a healthy fear of women in the workplace, and I’m even a girl. They target hard working, nice women who ironically are assets to companies, but who are a threat to themselves. Women bully by gossiping, by talking others into disliking the target with them, by putting down their target in public and in meetings, by picking and finding miniscule things wrong in emails then forwarding it to everyone in the department to show them and publicly blast the person. And even others who see what is going on and don’t agree with it, will ironically side with the bully out of fear, because they do not want to be next. And it’s almost impossible to complain about, because they would just think you’re being a whiner. Please, please come give learning seminars to companies like mine, or else HR and management will never know how to deal with this, and that it isn’t acceptable.

  5. bulliedtillburnedout says:

    Nurses are the worst take it from me I know

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