Women bullying women

Yesterday the New York Times featured an article on workplace bullying and the (according to the author) “pink elephant. . . lurking in the room” is the fact that female bullies target other women much more often that not.  In the article, “A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting,” leadership coach Peggy Klaus says that “female bullies aim at other women more than 70 percent of the time,” whereas male bullies are more “equal-opportunity tormentors” (h/t to regular commenter Indyanna for bringing this article to my attention.)  Klaus recites a number of reasons why women may target other women for abuse:

I’ve heard plenty of theories on why women undermine one another at work. Probably the most popular one is the scarcity excuse — the idea that there are too few spots at the top, so women at more senior levels are unwilling to assist female colleagues who could potentially replace them.

Another explanation is what I call the “D.I.Y. Bootstrap Theory,” which goes like this: “If I had to pull myself up by the bootstraps to get ahead with no one to help me, why should I help you? Do it yourself!”

Some people argue that women aren’t intentionally undermining one another; rather, they don’t want to be accused of showing favoritism toward other women.

I agree that these first three reasons, while wrong-headed, are excuses that people offer to explain bad behavior.  I’ve never understood the zero-sum mentality of “scarcity,” especially in the academic workplace.  Unlike people outside of academia, who are vulnerable to layoffs and being replaced by younger and cheaper employees, tenured faculty are safe.  They’re made men and women, so they have nothing to lose when their junior colleagues succeed, and if they have even a glimmer of civic-mindedness about their jobs they’ll be happy that their colleagues are thriving and making the department look good.  (Besides, rational Deans reward departments that are good at hiring and promoting good people, and they tend to look askance at departments who keep asking for lines to search because they keep firing the people they’ve recently hired.  Or so I like to think, in my dreamy dreamworld–those of you with administrative experience, please weigh in here!) 

Here’s where I disagree with Klaus:

Others contend that women mistreat one another because of hyperemotionality, leading them to become overly invested in insignificant nuances and causing them to hold grudges. I’ve encountered this phenomenon among women who feel personally assaulted when someone criticizes them or their ideas.

Maybe my experience is exceptional, rather than typical, but I’ve worked with many more men who are inclined to lash out emotionally.  Even in so-called “liberal” academia, women know we have to play by different rules.  We have to be much more calculating and careful about our clothing choices in our classrooms and offices, we can’t bring our kids to faculty meetings, and we surely can’t lash out emotionally at our colleagues (or worse, cry in front of them.)  Bear in mind, here:  I’m not making an essentialist argument that men are more emotionally volatile than women.  I’m suggesting that it’s a marker of power and male privilege that men can lash out emotionally without it hurting their careers.  They can use anger in particular, in the service of making their point or getting their way.  This is also surely a raced phenomenon:  white men can get angry and their majority white colleagues get worried that Daddy isn’t happy.  Black or Latino men who get angry and start yelling–well, that’s just scary, right?  And we all know that if a woman of any ethnicity gets angry and starts yelling, she’s just a crazy b!tch.

I think Klaus also missed some important reasons why women target other women:  like men, they’re also much more critical of women, and they hold other women to higher standards than they do their male colleages.  No matter what women do, it’s never enough, and it can always be twisted to be evidence of something bad that highlights a defect in your career.  Did you win a teaching award this year?  Well, that just proves you’re not serious about your research agenda.  Did you win a major fellowship to pursue your research?  Well, that just shows that you’re not serious enough about establishing yourself here and that you don’t take the teaching mission of your college seriously.  Did you agree to chair a major committee, either inside or outside of your university?  That just proves that your priorities are screwed up–you really should be working on your scholarship.  Did you refuse a service assignment so that you could focus on your research?  That just proves that you’re slacking the unglamorous work off on the rest of us.  Women and men alike know implicitly that it’s so much easier to take uncharitable readings of women’s records than of men’s records, and women and men alike do it.

Klaus goes on to explain why sometimes competitive feelings between women don’t have appropriate outlets, and here I think she’s onto something:

[S]ome people assert that while women compete quite ably on the sports field and in the classroom, they haven’t learned how to compete in a healthy way at the office. For example, men often handle their feelings of envy and jealousy with humor and a left-handed compliment: “I’m going to whip your butt on our sales goals this month.” Or, “Who’d you have to pay off for that promotion?” They deal with it, and they move on. Although considered perfectly acceptable for men in most business settings, this kind of banter is not as socially acceptable for women.

We women always have to be nice–nice to each other, nice to male colleagues, nice nice nice.  (This is also related to the dominant class identity that we maintain in academia.)  We have to compliment each other all of the time, we have to smile and nod approvingly through every hallway conversation through the day.  While by and large I think it’s desirable for colleagues to be friendly to each other, I think Klaus has a point about how much more hostile and aggressive “I’m going to whip your butt in teaching evaluations this year” would sound among women colleagues than among male colleagues. I agree with her entirely here:

[I]n the end, determining why women undermine one another’s workplace success isn’t what’s most important. Rather, we need to simply stop our own misbehavior and to call our colleagues on theirs.

Many of us, however, find it hard to even acknowledge mistreatment by another woman. We fear that bringing our experience into the light and talking about it will set us back to that ugly gender stereotype we have fought so hard to overcome: the one about the overemotional, backstabbing, aggressive (and you know what’s coming) bitch.

Yet, expecting women to be universally supportive of one another or to give preferential treatment to anyone with two X chromosomes is an equally unworkable view.

If we really want to clear one of the last remaining hurdles to gender parity and career success, let’s start treating one another not worse or better, but simply as well as we already treat the guys — or better yet, the way we want our nieces, daughters, granddaughters and sisters to be treated.

I think treating people as individuals, rather than making assumptions about their racial, gender, class, or sexual identities, and then assuming what these identities mean in terms of their needs and interests is a good place to start.  (And yes, being nice is a good place to start, but women shouldn’t be held to higher standards of niceness.)

Your thoughts, my dear readers?  (And by the way, that color looks fantastic on you.)

27 thoughts on “Women bullying women

  1. It seems like one needs caution in this conversation because there is a danger of ignoring or making exceptional the many (most?) women who are interested in mentoring junior women. By making “angry, bulling women” the problem, it totally ignores institutional structures that privilege men and maintains a status quo.

    Nonetheless, many of these same concerns could be raised about a few senior faculty of color (men or women) as well. Both the “bootstrap” and “scarcity” excuse reappear in those discussions about senior colleagues who, if not overtly hostile, are also not particularly helpful to their junior colleagues.

    I also agree with you, HistoriAnn, about those who “lash out.” Based on my (limited) experience, I would suggest that the senior women faculty in my formerly hostile department were not likely to be the ones who responded emotionally or became enmeshed in managing minute details of the unit (That was clearly certain white men (who also took the business of the unit very personally)). On the contrary, like the men of color in the unit, many senior women decided it was better to disengage entirely. As far as I could tell, it wasn’t so much the case that senior women bullied junior women as much as senior women simply disappeared. But, of course, that was from my very limited vantage point.


  2. GayProf–you’re right. Klaus was careful to bracket off her discussion of women bullying women with due acknowledgement of the important mentoring women do for each other. I should have stipulated the same.


  3. I think Klaus has a point about how much more hostile and aggressive “I’m going to whip your butt in teaching evaluations this year” would sound among women colleagues than among male colleagues.

    Flashing back here (and dating myself) to the lead up to the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Olympic rivalry. Remember back before TH had someone whack NK in the knee? Before that happened, there was a huge kerfuffle over an interview that TH gave in which, when asked about her upcoming olympic face-off with NK, responded, “I’m going to kick her ass.” If you remember this, you remember how horrified people were. And while you could chalk this up to a horror of being “unsportsmanlike”, I really think it had some pretty obvious gender overtones to it. Harding may not be the best example, but long before she went over the high side, she was pilloried in the media because she just. wasn’t. nice.


  4. Good point, Notorious–and perhaps unsurprisingly, this played into the media’s portrayal of Harding as “trailer trash.” (As in, not-nice girls must all be poor or working class, since all middle-class girls are nice above all.)

    This is a blast from the past: the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. Good times, good times…

    What would your colleagues say if you threatened to “kick” their “asses?” (I actually think this would be seen as inappropriately aggressive even among the men in the department, unless they knew each other very well and had a long-established friendly relationship.)


  5. I’m surprised that neither Klaus nor you, Hisoriann, bring up what seems to me to be a rather potent explanation: exceptionalism. Female bullies may identify more strongly with male colleagues than with female colleagues, and hold unexamined attitudes about feminine incapacity (such as that women are “hyperemotional” perhaps?) By contrast, they see themselves as the exceptions to the essentialist patterns they associate with their own sex. Indeed, I often am struck by how many people seem to have a preferred sex to interact with — many folks are strongly heterosocial or homosocial. (I’m the latter, by the way: I interact far better with women, socially, than with men; SweetCliffie is heterosocial, preferring the company of women, too — so we agree.) Anyway, the female bullies may be strongly heterosocial, male-identified women who are uncomfortable around other women because they share, perhaps in an unarticulated way, the dominant culture’s disregard for women.

    I bet we all think of women we’ve met, who invariably gravitate towards the most powerful-seeming male in a room, and seem barely able to contain their impatience when having to interact with another woman. I bet this is the bully pool.


  6. Well, Sq., I’m pretty smart, but I’m nothing without my commenters! I think your point is excellent. (I was trying to get at this in the part of my post where I comment on how women as well as men internalize cultural attitudes that devalue women and their work, but that was a fuzzier articulation of your more precise anthropological diagnosis.)

    In my case, the main female bully at my former university (my former Chair) is someone who was generally socially inadept, with men and women equally. She was more of a believer in the scarcity theory. She was also clearly a very insecure person–not the sort of person who commands a room or projects “I’m confident and in-charge.”

    This reverie reminds me of the experience of a friend of mine in the neighboring department at the same university, whose (female) chair was of the bootstraps philosophy. This chair actually told my friend that she was doing her a favor by being so hard on her, “because that’s what it’s like for women in our field, and that’s what the men here will do to you.” Uh-huh. So the point of having a putatively feminist female chair is…? (In her defense–sort of–my bully-Chair was not a feminist, nor did she affiliate or identify as a feminist, insofar as I ever heard or saw. But my friend’s chair was known as one of the big feminists on campus.)

    And, Indyanna: good luck with that! (You might want to keep a piece of rebar behind your desk this term.)


  7. In response to: “Besides, rational Deans reward departments that are good at hiring and promoting good people, and they tend to look askance at departments who keep asking for lines to search because they keep firing the people they’ve recently hired. Or so I like to think, in my dreamy dreamworld–those of you with administrative experience, please weigh in here!”

    In my experience, yes, deans of all kinds treasure departments that do a great job and yes, those departments with known cultures of failed searches, hazing assistant profs and bullying do not get rewarded. But then, per your premise, we have a rational dean.


  8. I wonder about how gender ratios in the workplace affect this. My dept has does not have a 50-50 male-female split, although we are closer to it than many other departments in my field are. Moreover, there’s a reasonably even spread among the ranks–my women colleagues skew slightly towards the Assistant Professor side, but it not as dramatic a skew as at other institutions. The stories I hear about this issue are different from friends at other universities where there is a higher male to female ratio are different than what I see and hear about here.

    My wife, meanwhile, works in a humanities department at another university where women outnumber men among regular faculty, and her experience has been *very* different from mine. (Moreover, probably 80% of the undergraduate majors in her dept are women, which gives the place a very different departmental culture than I have at my job.)

    I am just curious whether or not others have noticed similar things elsewhere. Gender ratios vary so much from university to university and field to field that this might make a real difference in workplace culture.


  9. Everybody who was around the department today–save for my best friend and ally–was on a search committee. They were meeting when I prowled the halls, and I wasn’t going to take on the whole posse. So my opportunity to do a little thread-related fieldwork kind of evaporated on me. Not sure if I’ll resume the hunt tomorrow.


  10. I didn’t think I would have anything to say on this topic, but the mention of Tonya Harding set me thinking. You see, I actually knew Tonya Harding. I didn’t know her that well, but my father was her doctor while all the crazy stuff was going on, and our family got to socialize with her.

    Tonya definitely was a bully, but only toward women. She was extremely deferential towards men, especially older men. She seemed completely subservient to her vile husband, at least some of the time. (They were actually divorced in 1993, but a few months later he showed up again and reasserted control over her.) But her relationship with Gillooly was merely the most pronounced manifestation of her general tendency not to be confrontational toward men.

    It occurred to me that this might be a more general phenomenon. If girls grow up being taught not to question male authority figures, this may strongly affect their later behavior. I hypothesize that this is why, as teenagers and adults, these women chose not to be bullying or confrontational towards males. Then, if they need an outlet for aggression, it must (by the “pigeon hole principle”) be aimed at their own sex.

    But back to Tonya Harding. Since I’m talking about her and her ex-husband, I want to relate an anecdote. It was deadly obvious to anyone around her that her husband was bad news. On New Year’s Eve 1993, he screwed up her practice and medication schedule by disappearing for several hours when he was needed to transport things. It later turned out that he was meeting with the thug who would perform the attack, but nobody knew that at the time. (The police later concluded that Tonya probably didn’t know about the planned attack until after it happened and was only involved in the cover-up, like Nixon.) When Gillooly eventually showed up, he offered some lame excuse, which was an obvious lie to everyone but Harding. Her coach, who was a wonderful person, said something to him that he had been needed and shouldn’t just go swanning off, and he launched into a profanity-laden tirade. Tonya eventually calmed him down, but she was completely on his side and wanted the coach to apologize. My description probably doesn’t do justice to the raw wrongness of character that the man seemed to exude that day, but on the way home from the ice rink, my father (not seriously, but in great anger) suggested stopping at a gun shop, buying Gillooly a Saturday night special, and convincing him that the best thing for everyone would be if he shot himself in the head. That he was evil was that obvious.


  11. Let me suggest an additional reason — POWER. People do not pick on people who they view as more powerful than themselves. Instead, they generally defer to those in power. And, more than 70% of the time, men hold the power positions. So it may not be that women pick on other women 70% of the time, it may be that bullies pick on people with less power 100% of the time — it just happens that women are more likely to be seen as less powerful.


  12. John S. raises a good point–perhaps in departments that have 40-50% (or more) representation of women on the faculty, there’s less of a (manufactured) feeling of “scarcity.” (That is, when departments move from tokenism to near-parity, women can relax a little and not feel like their slots are threatened.) Geek Girl is entirely correct, of course, in her analysis of gender and power: since most bullying women probably buy into the notion of male superiority (as Squadratomagico argued), that may also help explain why women target other women.

    Buzz, that is one wild story. That Gillooly guy always seemed like a lowlife, but your story goes beyond lowlife, that’s for sure! I still think that class played a big role in setting Tonya up as the “bad girl” outsider, even before any crimes were committed.

    And, Indyanna–too bad. You may have to wait until classes resume before you can kick some a$$!


  13. I’m surprised that neither Klaus nor you, Hisoriann, bring up what seems to me to be a rather potent explanation: exceptionalism. Female bullies may identify more strongly with male colleagues than with female colleagues, and hold unexamined attitudes about feminine incapacity (such as that women are “hyperemotional” perhaps?) By contrast, they see themselves as the exceptions to the essentialist patterns they associate with their own sex. Indeed, I often am struck by how many people seem to have a preferred sex to interact with — many folks are strongly heterosocial or homosocial. (I’m the latter, by the way: I interact far better with women, socially, than with men; SweetCliffie is heterosocial, preferring the company of women, too — so we agree.) Anyway, the female bullies may be strongly heterosocial, male-identified women who are uncomfortable around other women because they share, perhaps in an unarticulated way, the dominant culture’s disregard for women.

    What a great post and what great comments, Historiann and commenters!

    Responding to squadrotomatico’s point I pasted above, which I think is great and so right on, I think this works a little differently at times among feminists. I’ve observed that with feminists, it’s sometimes not so much (or only) that they hold unexamined attitudes about female incapacity as that they recognize and deeply resent essentialist attitudes in the surrounding culture, but instead of focusing on where the attitudes originate and how they are perpetuated (and who benefits), instead they punish women who, in their mind (or imagination) seem to reify or comply with the stereotypes. I think this has to do with distancing themselves (“exceptionalism”) and also with punishing the easier target, as someone else mentioned, instead of the more difficult target, i.e., an entire surrounding culture that is sexist, but with feminists it’s tricky. Under the aegis of critiquing femininity and sex stereotypes (which is valid and right), this kind of woman will attack and bully women they view as compliant (which is counterproductive and in my opinion, wrongheaded). The feeling you get is, if they say an apparently complaint woman has cooties loud enough, it might inoculate them against being accused of having those same cooties. Bottom line, the result is feminists aligning with men as against women under the aegis of feminist critique and analysis.

    I also really appreciate the distinctions “homosocial” and “heterosocial.” These are very good descriptions for phenomena I have found aggravating and confounding, i.e., women who present themselves as or identify as woman-identified and as feminists who don’t get along very well with women, who don’t enjoy the company of most women and who spend a lot of time attacking other women.


  14. Thanks for your comment, Heart. I think I know what you’re getting at. I’ve heard tales told by feminist women friends at different institutions that they were punished when they were perceived as having made the wrong decision in their lives. (This usually is around maternity and childbearing.) One friend told me that she got a lot of support and assistance from feminist friends in her department when she got pregnant and had a child on the tenure track. But when she got pregnant again before tenure, some of her friends seemed to turn on her, wondering aloud if she was really “serious” about tenure. (Because in their minds, no junior woman had a right to have two children on the tenure track and win tenure!) If you have other cases in which this happens, please share–I got the psychological contours of the problem you described, but more information about specific circumstances or examples would be really helpful

    Feminists are people too–we can be just as judgmental about other women’s choices and rigid about the acceptable parameters for a feminist life as Dr. Laura and the antifeminist brigade.


  15. So true that feminists are people too! I am really just saying that feminist critique and analysis can be used as weapons by, as squadrotomatico called it, “the bully brigade” in their ongoing project of bullying, and it can be hard to nail it or even see it because it can be passed off as feminist critique and analysis. The women you’re describing who have bullied a colleague who got pregnant can say that wasn’t their intention, they were just speaking as feminists in an uncompromised way. When in fact, there may be all sorts of stuff going on, odd resentments or regrets around having wanted to have a child but deciding not to for feminist reasons, or regrets around having had children and feeling like a bad mother or a bad feminist or both and so feeling a strange mixture of fear and anger towards a younger woman who is making those choices. I think the productive and useful response is to get busy making knowledge and theory out of our own responses to a woman who keeps having babies, compromising her tenure track! But too often the response is to attack her, or ignore her or kick her to the curb in some way, bully her, in an attempt to distance ourselves, make ourselves the exception, the woman who would never do that because we are just far too serious about our feminism to ever do such an anti-feminist thing, kind of a deal.

    Bullying of this type happens for reasons other than a feminist colleague getting pregnant of course, i.e., it can happen if she marries, it can happen if she was a lesbian and now she takes up with a man, it can happen if she gets her stomach stapled to lose weight or even if she goes on a diet. The issue is, I think, is it ever a useful response to attack or bully an individual woman for what she’s done, however nonfeminist someone might think it is. I don’t think it ever is, but I think it happens a lot for the reasons everyone here has been talking about.


  16. Thanks, Heart, for those additional examples and elaboration. I agree with you.

    I will say that my friend who had 2 kids on the tenure track (and is now tenured) wouldn’t say she was bullied. I think she was hurt that her nominal allies weren’t as supportive of her as they had been, but I don’t think she’d call it bullying. (Not all criticism or questioning of one’s decisions is bullying–it’s frequently obnoxious but it’s not necessarily bullying!)


  17. Yeah, I agree, criticism/questioning do not equal bullying. In the original post, the word “undermining” was used and that’s a good word for what goes on a lot in professional settings, I think, this kind of undertow that is created when a woman is targeted in some way by other women. I don’t know how often undermining rises to the level of bullying, but I think that whenever a woman is effectively silenced because she has been so relentlessly undermined, wherever she finds herself without friends, excluded from important discussions and meetings, formal or informal, she probably has been bullied, though quietly and stealthily.


  18. This article was really fascinating. I can’t say that I’ve seen either men or women be exceptionally mean or nice in my office ALL the time. It’s varied. I do notice that women support staff are always nicer than men in authority, however. Men in authority and men in general get away with scowling looks, bad manners and clueless personalities. I’ve never kow towed to the “niceness” obsession which always seems to be the cross straight women have to bear. I’m aggressive, outspoken and can really go after men if they make sexist comments about women. I’ve never ever seen a straight woman haul off and yell at a man for a sexist comment, or go into combat with a man who gropped her breasts. I’ve done both.

    I’m not in an academic environment, and am in charge of bringing in new business. The women support staff have always been exceptionally collegial with me, and it is they who hate the gruff emotionally boring and shut down men the most. Sometimes, they’ll put the paperwork of a hated male to the bottom of the pile as a kind of passive aggressive resistense.

    I do see that it is very hard for women to be loyal to each other, and I’ve never seen straight women ever punch a man out. So I can’t say. It seems that straight women are very very afraid of making scenes, bragging or telling off men. I actually enjoy telling the men to fall on their swords and die a long death, so I suppose I’ll always be the odd warrior dyke in the corporate world.

    What did shock me was how women piled on against Sarah Palin, something I would never do to a woman who was running for office at a level like that. I didn’t have it in for conservative women, believing that they often “pretend” to be more conservative than they really are. I was shocked that liberal women called Gov. Palin the b-word and wrote the nastiest political emails I had ever received during the 2008 election year. No men wrote such mean emails about Gov. Palin to me personally.
    When I confronted a few of the women who wrote the mean emails, they wouldn’t even discuss the subject they were so filled with liberal hate Palin venom. I think my complex idea that I don’t really care all that much if women are liberal or conservative, since I think the office often makes the woman was a bit too complex for a lot of liberal women out there.

    I have no problem helping women in their careers and have bent over backward to do so. It is, however, often a thankless job with little reward, unlike younger men who remain loyal to their mentors through the years.

    Women have still yet to assess just what divides women from each other. It is complex. I know I get sick of the niceness that straight women seem compelled to show the world, when I do get very angry and am not afraid to show it, or I am patient. I’m just my lesbian self, and don’t have to go home in the evening to be even more male pleasing to a husband. Perhaps it’s why I may have more energy to support women, as I don’t serve men in my home, have never been saddled with children, and focus heavily on an intellectual life.

    A lot of women I think don’t take enough time for themselves, and thus fall victim to this stuff.

    My favorite groups are either all men or all women. I don’t liked mixed gender environments at all, so that’s a bit different I guess. The men can tolerate my aggressive in your face style that so scares straight middle class women, and women like my rather fun loving and intellectual side. It’s interesting.


  19. Satsuma–thanks for stopping by to comment. I agree with you about the odd spectacle last fall when so-called feminists and liberals deployed ugly gendered and sexualized language and rhetoric against Palin. (Then again, many of them had done this all year long to a woman in their own party!)

    I chalk it up to the Dems being unwilling to examine the ugly and large stripe of misogyny running through the party, a party that is only able to win (when it does) because of women’s votes.


  20. Yes Historiann, you are so right about this. It was a shock to my feminist soul to see the venom of anti-Hillary comments by liberal women as well. The Obama supporters were very very bad in this respect.

    We need solidarity among women so badly. I’m working harder than ever to connect with and support women. And, I was very impressed with your advice for women going on academic interviews! It was practical, down to earth, and much needed. The academy sounds like a scary place to me compared to a corporate environment where I work. I bring in the business, they respect and leave me alone. It’s very production oriented, and so personalities and politics are less visible.

    Best of luck to you on your blog, I’ve added you to my “favorites” and will read you regularly.

    All women need to band together. Just because we lead very different lives doesn’t mean we can’t connect. We have to understand that patriarchy trives on dividing women, and that is part of the structure of this soul destroying system. Palin and Clinton, two extremes perhaps, and yet we should be excited at how women are pushing and pushing the men to get those jobs. I smiled to myself to listen to white male christian talk radio get mad at the “sexism” directed toward Gov. Palin. They used the word “sexism” what’s the world a-comin to? 🙂


  21. I am a female graduate student in a male-dominated field (chemistry). On top of the typical gender issues that a female expects when dealing with The Old Boys’ Club constantly, I have been on the receiving end of girl bullying by a senior labmate.

    In reference to John S.’s comment, I think that girl bullying is easier to perpetrate when there is a high ratio of boys:girls. In my situation, I felt there was no one from whom I could seek advice or in whom I could find an ally. I felt as though no one really understood the problem fully. Thus, Senior Bully was much more effective at making my life miserable.

    Klaus’s article resonated with me strongly (the discussion here is interesting as well), but I was rather disappointed that there was no practical advice on what to do about this apparently common problem besides encouragement for women to be nice to one another. I think this encouragement is needed, but I don’t think it’s applicable when the bullying has already commenced. Are there tips somewhere for dealing with girl bullying in the workplace? I have found lots of parenting advice for dealing with school age girls, but not for workplace peers. In my situation, I just hung on for dear life until the bully graduated and now try my very, very hardest to be a good colleague to other women in my lab/department. The years during which I was bullied were extremely depressing and difficult, though, and I would like to know how to deal with it if I encounter it again, whether someone tries to bully me or someone else.

    I wonder if methods for dealing with girl bullying differ in academia vs. industry? There are so many sorts of abuses that go unchecked in academia, but I only have experience in that realm. Also, in my situation, my bully had in turn been bullied when she was a young graduate student. Is this a feedback loop, where the behavior is passed down through the ranks?


  22. Wow, labrat–what a tale. I’m afraid that I personally think there’s nothing to be done about it in most cases, other than waiting it out (as you have) or quitting. I think it’s sad that people who were bullied end up bullying others. Good for you if you’re resisting this tendency and are reaching out to be a good “big sister” to the other women you work with now.

    If you run into bullies again, you’ll need to figure out if they have allies (bad) or if they’re isolated (good.) If they’re isolated and don’t have any power over you, then it’s not such a panic. If they have power over you, well, I think the best thing to do is to leave. Bullies, and the work environments that tolerate or even encourage them, are not going to change, and it’s too much for one person to try to oppose.

    Check out this post for a compilation of posts on bullying in academia.


  23. I’m so glad to have found your blog and all the resources that it contains. One more question: in leaving a position because of bullying, how is this addressed in the job application process, if at all?


  24. I would not address it at all. Unfortunately, and unfairly, it won’t do you any good to bring it up in an application or interview, and it will only raise questions as to whether or not you were the source of problems in that work environment. You should just be positive and forward-thinking, and pretend when you send out applications that you’re just looking for new challenges and not running for your life. No one stays in the same job for a lifetime, so think about other good reasons that you might throw your hat in the ring for new opportunities. Focus on your skills and achievements and on your future goals.

    If you land in a new and much-improved work environment, then you may feel that you want to share information about your former job, but I would still proceed cautiously with that. If you do tell your story, make sure that you’ve established yourself as a solid colleague and co-worker–no one wants to hear someone complain endlessly about their old job. It may make people think you’re disloyal, or a chronic complainer. However, it might be useful someday to share your experiences in the service of heading off a problem in your new work environment. People who have worked in dysfunctional work environments often have valuable perspectives in how to avoid creating another one!

    Good luck, and godspeed, labrat. It’s a big task, but have confidence that you will find a job you enjoy with coworkers who respect one another and work together well.


  25. Pingback: 6 Signs You Are Not Supporting Your Female Colleagues – Fanny Pack

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