Roundup on workplace bullying and women

The links between workplace bullying and women are multifaceted, ranging from survey data showing that women are more frequently targeted than men, to the complex topic of female-to-female bullying. I’ve collected some blog posts that examine some of these important aspects:

New WBI workplace bullying survey: Men bully more than women, and women are most frequent bullying targets (2014)

The latest Workplace Bullying Institute public opinion survey on workplace bullying in the U.S., summarized here last week, yielded a number of useful, albeit unsurprising, findings concerning gender:

  • Men are 69% of the perpetrators and females are 31%;
  • When men bully, females are 57% of targets and males are 43%;
  • When women bully, females are 68% of targets and males are 32%;
  • Overall, women are 60% of bullying targets and men are 40%.

These figures largely affirm previous statistical trends on workplace bullying and gender breakdowns.

Female-to-female workplace bullying: Homespun theory on an imperfect storm (2011)

In this post I pulled together survey data and commentaries on female-to-female bullying in an attempt to fashion a connect-the-dots theory on this complex dynamic:

These factors coalesce into an imperfect storm, whereby women who have been treated poorly or even abusively at work by other women are more likely to perceive the behaviors in very negative and hurtful ways. It may help to explain, for example, why female-dominated professions such as nursing have cultures of incivility — “nurses eat their young” is a well-known quip — grounded in characterizations of “catty” aggression.

This also means that women have to be more self-aware of their behaviors than do men, on average. It is unfair that women who mistreat others may be judged more severely than men who act in the same way, but that is an enduring reality.

Kerri Stone on “Why Gender Considerations Should Inform the Emerging Law of Workplace Bullying”

The leading law review article on workplace bullying and gender is a 2009 piece by Prof. Kerri Stone (Florida International U.). I’ve mentioned this article and Kerri’s work in several posts, but rather than paraphrase those references, here’s part of the article abstract (go here for full abstract and download link to article):

This Article submits that the documented phenomenon of workplace bullying operates to stymie the retention and advancement of women in the workplace. . . . This Article adds a new dimension . . . by viewing workplace bullying through the lens of gender discrimination, albeit perhaps unwitting gender discrimination. It explores the disparate impact doctrine of liability and examines how its rationale, ideological underpinnings, framework, and viability as a vehicle might look against the backdrop of workplace bullying. . . . In addition to contemplating possible uses of Title VII, this Article examines proposed state statutes, and posits the possible creation of a federal agency to deal with the problem in a manner that may not implicate a private right of action. It is only through increased awareness and renewed discussion of all of the discriminatory ramifications of bullying, that this last bastion of legally protected workplace abuse, which typically occurs behind closed doors and whose effects are too often obscured, will be stopped.

Is gaslighting a gendered form of workplace bullying? (2013)

Gaslighting “is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity” (Wikipedia). It is commonly associated with workplace bullying, and in this post I examine its potentially gendered dynamics:

But I’ll place a heavy bet that these lines are directed at a lot more women than men, including in the workplace. They are meant to plant seeds of self-doubt that add to the crazy-making dynamics of being bullied, at times with a big dose of discriminatory intent. The e-mail chain you were left off of…the meeting you weren’t included in…the lunch at the club you weren’t invited to…You’re so sensitive. You’re so emotional. You’re defensive. You’re overreacting.

Of course, this is just the comparatively minor stuff. If you’ve seen more harrowing, malicious forms of gaslighting related to work — sabotage, stalking, electronic harassment, and so forth — you know what I mean. This can be among the most vicious of bullying tactics.

Singled out? Workplace bullying, economic insecurity, and the unmarried woman (2010)

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.

Workplace bullying, stress, and fibromyalgia (2011)

Fibromyalgia is a chronic, disabling medical condition marked by widespread pain and fatigue that afflicts women far more often than men. . . . The Workplace Bullying Institute recognizes that fibromyalgia can be a consequence of workplace bullying . . . . Research is making the link: For example, a 2008 study led by Canadian researcher Sandy Hershcovis . . . found that workplace bullying targets were more likely to develop fibromyalgia. A 2004 study led by Finnish researcher Mika Kivimaki . . . found that stress at work “seems to be a contributing factor in the development of fibromyalgia.”


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5 responses

  1. Interesting insights. I wonder if the phenomenon of bullying across the board has ever been studied from the point of view of maintaining social class advantage. In workplaces which are predominantly male females NOT being bullied might be unusual. The objective might be to drive women out and maintain jobs for men. Female to female bullying might be middle class females targeting working class females because they represent a threat for promotion – playing the higher social class card is a very powerful tactic.

  2. Re class – I would not say so. My experiences always are the following: working class females bully middle class females, in a ‘class revolution’ attitude; middle class females attack other middle class females; middle class and working class aggressors gang up against middle or working class females. Also, I have witnessed the bullying of Indian and Black females by white females and males. Indian and Black males are not such easy targets (though efforts are made) I think because men have a stronger physical presence and are not so easy to ‘take down’ and are more likely to be effective in ‘turning’ on their attacker.

  3. My goodness. It is a big subject and very interesting. The problem of social aggression in the workplace is very understated. My experience is UK so it might be different. I have only ever witnessed higher to lower class abuse. In one predominantly male workplace females targeted. In predominantly middle class offices, working class women bullied, often pushed out. In middle class offices male superiors getting away with everything short of murder. I have never seen any social subordinate successfully bully a superior. Which is not to say it doesn’t happen, just I have never seen it. I have seen white to black racism, but a long time ago (40 years) not recently. I have never seen any white woman brave enough to take on a black woman. And very offensive behaviour from Muslim males to any female of any rank. I agree completely that there needs to be a blanket ban on bullying in the workplace. It shouldn’t be rocket science to define acceptable boundaries of behaviour. If you ever come across any social analysis of who bullies who, that would be interesting.

  4. Very interesting. A few years ago I did a fair amount of study on relational bullying in the office, particularly among women, and found that it is so much more widespread than I initially thought (which made me feel better that I was not alone…then it made me feel terrible for feeling better that other people were receiving the same treatment…). I also found out that the psychological affects can be devastating. Luckily, my experience was not as bad as it could have been, but I did go from an upbeat person that very quickly made friends to someone that was afraid to put myself out there and trust others.

    I have experienced bullying from other women, but also from supervisors (all men), and the biggest problem I have observed is that no one will talk about it. Even when they see it for what it is, even after a person has been fired. They just gloss over what happened. This only helps the aggressors, and hurts the office environment and those that have had to endure the bullying behavior.

  5. I actually have a question and wanted to get opinions. I was bullied at work for 3 years and finally terminated. I am protected class. I filed with EEOC and quit because it was taking so long and too hard on me mentally. I received a letter saying I have 90 days to file a civil suit. Would this be just as stressful? They said a lawyer could be provided free of charge. This should actually be a class action lawsuit for about 100 ex-employees bullied out of the same company; either fired or quit. The corp. is still doing this. I would like to prove a point, but the corporation is so powerful, I don’t know if I can. I am not sure what the longest time a civil suit can go on. That is where they the wearing down comes in. Just wanted opinions or someone who has done this.


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