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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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