Bullies Beyond the School Yard

October was National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month. It aims to bring more awareness to the severity of bullying. Bullying, as most of us know, is the most common form of violence in schools. It involves an imbalance of power, intent to cause harm and picking on the same person time after time, advises StopBullying.gov. It doesn’t take place just in the schoolyard either.  Work, at home and online are also common places for bullying behavior. The Awareness Month is intended to teach people to spot bullying behavior and give people, especially kids, the tools to deal with it should they experience it or see it.

Why do people bully? I wish I knew, but regardless of the reasons why one person chooses to bullies another, it is unacceptable behavior. Most schools are now spending a portion of their budget, time and skills to stop bullying in their schools.  As parents, we are taught to look for signs that our children might be victims of bullying or a bully him/herself. We check in and ask ourselves; is he/she sick to his stomach when it's time to go to school? Does he/she avoid want to avoid recess? Hanging out with friends? Does he/she explode in anger? Is he/she quick to blame others? Is he/she a manipulator, a controller? Does he/she refuse to take responsibility for his actions?

We are poignantly aware of the long lasting effects of bullying too.  That the scars carry into adulthood, affecting our levels of happiness and success. So needless to say, when I came across a report from Zogby indicating that 71% of workplace bullying is women harassing other women, and a study by the University of Toronto showing that women who worked with female bosses were more likely to show high levels of work-related stress, and that most women prefer male bosses, I was horrified. 

Tell me, is it too “Pollyanna-esque” of me to think that women grow up from the antics of grade school and high school?   I mean I know it exists, I have encountered my own share of difficult female bosses, but to see the statistic of 71% of total bullying taking place among women, is just unacceptable.  And should be to all of us. Don’t women have enough to deal with in the workplace (both paid and not)? Should dodging the sting of a Queen Bee be added to the list?  Shouldn’t we be able to look to other women for support and mentoring not antagonizing?

When management consultant Mary Sherry wrote about women and workplace bullying a few years ago, she received dozens of responses supporting the idea that women are more likely bullies than men. Sherry suggests that women who “don’t have the managerial competence to get the best out of people” may turn to bullying instead.  While it may be true that women have fewer opportunities to gain management skills than their male counterparts,  bullying is less about competence and more about low self confidence.

Chellie Mejia, in the Women’s Post, also says that when “I see a “Queen Bee” who resorts to work place bullying to lead, get her point across, or establish her status in an office, much like high school “Queen Bees”, what I actually see is a woman who is lacking in confidence, self-esteem, the ability to ask for help, the ability to listen, the ability to accept constructive criticism, and the ability to delegate effectively – all key management capabilities. 

Others suggest that while there are more women “bullies”, the women are not at fault, it the gender biases in the workplace that lead them to such behavior.  To determine whether queen bee behavior is actually a response to a difficult, male-dominated environment, researchers at the Leiden University in the Netherlands gave an online questionnaire to 63 senior women working at police departments in three Dutch cities. First, all of the women were asked questions was about how important their gender identity was at work, including how much they identified with other women in the police force.  Half of the participants were then asked to write about a situation in which they either believed that being a woman was detrimental to them at work or heard other people talking negatively about women.  The women were then asked to describe their leadership style, to say how much they felt they differed from other women and to say whether there was still sexism within the police. How the respondents responded to these questions depended on the strength of their female identity. 

Women who had not been reminded of their own experiences of sexual discrimination answered like queen bees – they indicated a more male leadership style, said they were very different from other women and were more forceful in denying that there was still sexual discrimination in the police force. However, this was only if they had started out by saying that they did not identify with other women in the police force. Women who strongly identified with other women exhibited an opposite reaction: after they had thought about sexism they were actually more prepared to mentor other women and help them with their career. Adding to the arguement that bullying is about a lack of confidence and the gender bias that women face.

Regardless of the reasons or the arguments as to why women would deliberately treat other women in this manner, the numbers support that it is more than common and more than a small problem.  It must be addressed.  Women must take the time to learn other ways of showing their strength, skills, and leadership beyond threatening others.  We must show the workplace and each other why women in leadership positions benefit employers not pose a threat to their greatest assets, their employees. Women who feel they are victim of female bulley, come forward.  Find the help you need to cope and make it stop.

C’mon ladies.  We can all do better.

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Do you work for a woman?  Have you experienced a Queen Bee?  Been a victim of bullying in the workplace?  How did you handle it?

Susan M. Heathfield, a human resources expert feels that you can deal with a bully but it is going to take some  courage. You can address the behavior of a bully in your workplace. With persistence and personal courage, you can neutralize the bully behavior and regain your conflict-free workplace.  Here is what she suggests:

Set Limits on What You Will Tolerate

Most importantly, once you have set the limit in your mind, exercise your right to tell the bully to stop the behavior.

Confront the Bully With His Own Behavior

If the bully is talking over you with complaints and criticisms, ask him a direct question about what he recommends instead. If that doesn’t work ask him to leave the meeting until you finish your discussion. If he refuses, end the meeting and reschedule the meeting without him.

You need to call out the bully on your terms.

Document the Bully’s Actions

Any time you are feeling bullied or experiencing bullying behavior, document the date, time and details of the incident. Note if another employee witnessed the incident. If you eventually seek help from Human Resources, documentation, especially documentation of the bully's impact on business results and success, gives HR information to work with on your behalf. The bully is not just hurting your feelings; the bully is sabotaging business success.

If the bullying occurs in email or correspondence, maintain a hard copy of the trail of emails and file them in a folder in your computer.

Your Coworkers Are Targets of the Bully, Too

Note whether the bully pulls the same behavior with your coworkers. Ask your coworkers to document the bully’s behavior and any scenes they witness when the bully targets any coworker. If five of you experience the bullying, and five of you document, then you build a case to which HR and your management can respond on solid ground. They need evidence and witnesses, even if everyone knows, that the bully is a bully.

Tell Management and HR About the Bully

You’ve tried to implement these recommendations, but they aren’t working to stop the bully. It's time to get help. Go to HR or your manager with your evidence, especially the evidence that demonstrates the impact of the bully on the business, and file a formal complaint. Most employee handbooks describe the HR investigation process that your complaint sets in motion.

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