Here’s my hypothesis, and I’m wondering if somewhere there’s a good study that brings together these strands: When it comes to workplace bullying and economic insecurity exacerbated by the Great Recession, single women — especially those with dependents — face a sort of double jeopardy.
Specially targeted for bullying?
Workplace bullying targets are not limited to any demographic set. However, according to the 2007 national prevalence study (link here) conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute and Zogby International pollsters, nearly 6 of every 10 bullying targets are female.
In addition, while conceding that my impressions are anecdotal, I have found that, in my countless unsolicited exchanges with targets seeking legal referrals, unmarried women in their 30s or older, many of whom are single parents, appear to be disproportionately on the receiving end of some of the worst forms of bullying at work.
It makes sense, sadly. Let’s start with the observation that truly abusive bullies often have a knack for sniffing out vulnerable individuals. Then we look at potential targets: Demographically speaking, is there any group more vulnerable than single women raising kids? They already are juggling work and caregiving, their schedules seem timed down to the minute, and not infrequently they are struggling financially — especially if there is no father in the picture.
Single women without children may not be as economically desperate to hold onto their jobs, but they can be very vulnerable as well. Women in general remain underpaid compared to male counterparts. Those who came out of dissolved marriages may have re-entered the workforce later in life. Circumstances vary, but they may be less likely to have someone to fall back on if bullied out of a job.
In a report titled The Other Half: Unmarried Women, Economic Well-Being, and the Great Recession (link here) recently issued by the Center for American Progress and Women’s Voices. Women Vote, Liz Weiss and Page Gardner analyze the economic state of single women in the midst of the Great Recession.
Unmarried women lag behind single men and married couples by many economic measures, including earnings from work and household income, which includes earnings as well as other sources of income such as Social Security or investments. Unmarried women also have much lower median net wealth than men or couples, and they have significant debt. Single women are about as likely to have debt as single men, but the median value of their total debt is greater than single men. All of these factors combine to create a relatively insecure economic picture for unmarried women.
The Other Half is chock-full of facts, figures, and analysis. Clearly the mass media have underreported the impacts of the Great Recession on this significant segment of the population.
Membership in any demographic group will not shield one from the realities of today’s workplace and economy. After all, plenty of white males with families and homes in the ‘burbs have experienced difficult work environments and unemployment. But when you start pulling together information about who is targeted for bullying at work and who is suffering financial distress, single women start to emerge as an especially vulnerable group.
Hat tip: I first learned about the work of Women’s Voices. Women Vote and The Other Half at a July Congressional briefing on women and unemployment, sponsored by the Americans for Democratic Action Education Fund, on whose board I serve.
Additional commentary, July 2018 — I wrote this piece some eight years ago, when the ravages of the Great Recession were still being felt most acutely. That said, during the intervening years I have become more aware of the targeting of middle-aged women in workplaces, especially when it comes to bullying, age discrimination, and other negative occurrences. I believe there are some bigger societal forces at play that have powerfully gendered dynamics driving them.