Even though women in the workforce have come a long way, there are still many persistent instances of inequality. From the pay gap, to representation in certain fields, being a strong working woman is still not exactly easy. However, while forming viable solutions to these problems will take time, there is one way in which working women can really come together: by quite literally coming together.
That seems obvious, but unfortunately that tried and true advice isn’t always followed. Recent studies have shown that, while women workplace bullies are far less common than male ones, 68 percent of female perpetrators target other females at work. This is in direct contrast with male bullies who, while they significantly outnumber their female counterparts, also direct their torment more equally across the sexes. Having bullies in the adult workplace can seem like an odd notion, but subversive means of excluding and demoralizing others is actually a form of bullying—its not always physical.
What’s the deal with that? The problem is that female on female bullying is sometimes so subconscious that women may not even realize they’re doing it while they’re doing. Because there doesn’t seem to be much room at the top for all of us. Out of the 500 companies on this year’s Fortune 500 list, only 21 had women in charge. That’s less than 5% representation. Because of the seemingly limited amount of space for women in leadership positions, it can create the impression that we’re all vying for the same few spots at the top. When a woman senses that another woman in her workspace is highly competent, it can seem to be a threat. This can then lead to more subtle bullying tactics such as leaving out another coworker, starting rumors, and other non-physical acts of aggression.
Having a more inclusive mindset towards other female coworkers is crucial to bridging that gap between acknowledging and enacting female empowerment. However, because of the lack of female representation in so much of the U.S., the office can seem to be a competitive setting for women. Wanting to be the best female in your office is a natural desire. But in order for all of womankind to fully band together, and create a much more female-friendly landscape and an even bigger pool of strong, smart, hardworking women in the office, women must first come to terms with the fact that they may, however subconsciously, be a perpetrator of office bullying.
So, how can you tell if you’re treating another female coworker unfairly? Well, it’s not exactly easy to pinpoint micro aggressions, but it’s important to try, and GovFem is here to help.
You gossip about one particular coworker. Office gossip is inevitable. Really, gossip is inevitable in just about every environment there is. And while it’s okay to occasionally let a little steam out by saying a few things about a coworker, there is a fine line.
If you steadily find yourself harping on one particular female coworker, especially behind her back, it may be time to evaluate your motives. Trying to make yourself look better by making others look worse is a smart war tactic, definitely. But in the fight for female equality, the war isn’t between women–so don’t try and make it that way.
You purposefully don’t include the new girl. If a bright new employee joins your team, it can be disconcerting to really let her in. She may be a threat to that promotion you’ve been gunning for, or she might have gotten hired to eventually replace you. It’s not your fault that there’s seemingly such a limited space for women in the workforce. However, deploying mean girl tactics like leaving someone out won’t fix the problem.
Remember how nerve wracking it was for you to start a new job, and try to include her. Burning bridges and excluding others won’t improve your own career. On the contrary, including her will lead to a stronger team overall, and be a great way for you to showcase your leadership skills. Even if it’s not a brand new coworker, if there’s a woman who you’re ardently avoiding, you may be a workplace bully.
You’re starting to get an attitude. It might not seem possible for an employee to actually bully their boss, but it’s actually an all all-too real occurrence. In fact, a Syracuse University study discovered that female workers are more critical of a female boss who fails to exhibit signs of affinity or sympathy, while also disrespecting a female boss who come across as too self-assured or pushy.
If you find yourself having or, worse, showing a lack of respect for your female leader, try and picture a male boss having the exact same attributes. Sometimes, our competitive nature can get the best of us and we want to drag down other women who are more senior than us. But doing so also drags us as women back fifteen years. So resist that urge. Check your attitude, and make sure you’re respecting female bosses–they’ve earned that position, and if you work hard, you could get there too.
Being a working woman is daunting – we face a lot more challenges than our male counterparts. The fact that The Fortune 500 only featured 21 women at the top of those 500 companies, a mere 4.2% representation, is baffling. Its scary, and it can seem like passive aggressively fighting our way to the top is the only way to get to where we deserve to be. But if women were to work together to fight our sexist work culture, we can achieve much more equality over time.
Note: This article was originally published in October, 2016.