By: Meredith Lepore
For better or for worse, mean girls are popping up all over the workplace. According to a 2007 Workplace Bullying Institute survey, though the majority of workplace bullies are men, female bullies target other women 71 percent of the time. Women can often feel threatened by other women in the workplace, which is why they lash out in subtle (mind games) and not so subtle ways (outright criticism). Selena Rezvani writes in The Washington Post:
“While workplace studies show women are routinely underestimated compared to men, we don’t give much credence to the fact that women hampering other women is also to blame… Many of us have witnessed the man who comments on a woman’s hotness just as she leaves the room. But what about the woman who criticizes another’s appearance (Did you see what she was wearing in there?) or frowns on a woman’s unapologetic use of power (Just who does she think she is?)?”
Rezvani says women, especially those at the top levels in their careers, may be experiencing some sort of “sexism amnesia.” She writes, “They may forget what it’s like to be junior, to have little sway, and to be underestimated as a young woman. When they finally do get to the top, they adopt the mindset of those around them and gloss over their past struggles. Even harsher is the sink-or-swim school of thought whose club motto is, ‘I was treated like dirt on my way up, so you should be too.’”
Women can feel very threatened in the workplace, probably because we have to fight so hard to reach the top. Michelle Duguid, PhD, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Olin Business School, identifies two kinds of threats—competitive threat and collective threat—which she thinks affect the behaviors of female tokens in high-status work groups in the context of promotion and selection.
“Competitive threat is the fear that a highly qualified female candidate might be more qualified, competent, or accepted than you are,” Duguid says.“Women also might be concerned about bringing in another woman with lower qualifications, who could reinforce negative stereotypes about women and impact others’ impressions of them. This is collective threat.”
This is why we need to work extra hard to overcome our amnesia, or just good old-fashioned jealousy or feeling threatened, and try to support other women. This negativity just reinstates those terrible stereotypes about women being catty in the workplace. Women need to be associated with leadership skills, not mind games. And one way to do this is to show that we are paying it forward with other women and supporting them. That is the way we are going to get more women in the boardroom.
What is also really tricky about women is that we are highly competitive but we also often suffer from “nice syndrome.” So we tend to be very nice and polite to someone’s face, but we are competing at the same time in a way that comes across as backstabbing.
We spoke with Kathi Elster, career expert and co-author of Mean Girls at Work: How To Stay Professional when Things Get Personal. Elster said one thing she makes her female clients do is acknowledge other women.
“If they are having successes, get up and go talk to them. Send them that congratulatory email. And once they do it, they will be thanked,” she said. “The women who received the email will often say, ‘Thank God you sent that, no one else has.’ We need to get into the habit of being happy for other women because those women will take you along with them if you don’t come off as a problem.”
It’s so easy to extend a “good job” or a “congratulations.” We’re not saying roll out the red carpet and write a song about them; just tell them they did well. Don’t resent other women for having more help in their careers than you did.
Be happy, because in the long run this will help everyone. Make it a point to extend some sort of compliment to other women in your office at least once a week. Get your congratulations on!
By: Meredith Lepore
This article was originally published on Levo League.
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