“Queen Bees”, “Mean girls”, the Mentor and the Great Workplace Overlook.
I should preface this post with what I say here might not be popular with you. It is not on trend. It might trigger you, it might affirm your experience(s), it might enrage you, it might inspire you. Why am I writing this? This is not an article to bash others. I hope it might help others. But mostly I am writing to close a chapter (hopefully) on what has been a very painful learning experience and to move forward with nothing but hope and joy. A huge part of how I have overcome some of this pain inflicted upon me was by forgiving others and forcing myself to wish others well. And also learning, learning, learning, and swearing I will never be mean, passive aggressive, jealous, selfish, and cut throat to other women in the workplace. This piece is a form of therapy for me.
Women Harassing Women
So what am I talking about here? I am talking about women who deliberately or subconsciously are mean to other women in the workplace. This can be obvious- like saying something mean to a woman, “you know when you wear that shirt men are only looking at your boobs”, or throwing a woman under the bus, for example, accusing a woman of having an affair with the boss to get her job. It can be giving a woman work over the weekend because you had to do it so she needs to do it. It can be giving a woman twice the amount of work as her male counterpart because he just can’t multi-task like she does.
I don’t want to put a label on women who are mean to other women in the workplace. People make choices. Life is dynamic. If you have been mean, you can stop, or you can try. You don’t have to fill that role. I am sure I am not perfect or guilt free here. I have made plenty of mistakes. But I can change, I strive to change, and I hope you read this and strive for change too.
A few years ago I was about to give a talk at a Tile IX conference but it was right smack in the beginning of the Me Too movement. So women harassing women, not sexually, just wasn’t on the agenda. But it happens. More than we talk about. More than we deal with. More than organizations and businesses write into policy, and definitely more than places of work address. But we need to talk about it. We need to address this problem.
Have you heard of these stories? Women Firing For Being Too Attractive Upheld. Lawsuit of the Day: Woman Claims She Was Fired for Being Too Attractive. How many of you women hear or have heard about women suing for being discriminated against for being attractive and then immediately judged the woman, or felt no sympathy for the woman, or thought, well that’s rare? Ask yourself why this is.
When we talk about gender based harassment, we generally are referring to men who harass women. Or when a person is discriminated against because of their gender by someone who is not of the same sex. I am going to give you examples because I am sure about 90% of women reading this will think this does not apply to them:
- A woman spreads a rumor about another woman in the workplace. I personally feel this is worse among women in the workplace then men. Women will create rumors and perpetuate gossip when they are insecure, threatened, and/or trying to manipulate a situation.
2. Age-ism. It isn’t all happening to the older women. Younger women or younger looking women are easy targets for older women (so are unmarried women but I digress). There is a “right of passage” mentality for younger women by older women. Rare (luckily) have I met a man in the workplace and then he acted surprised that I had an idea, or knowledge, or professional experience. However, the number of times a woman has commented on or resented me because I “didn’t know my place”, knew something they didn’t (heaven forbid), or assumed because I looked young or was young, I couldn’t contribute in a meaningful way, is way too many to count.
3. Looks. You are damned if you do or damned if you don’t. My friend jokes that I dress like a librarian. I do dress like a librarian but not so women won’t use my outfits against me like a weapon (even though apparently the librarian look can be dangerous- one time someone accused my boss of making me wear only skirts). I guess I generally like the librarian look. But some women feel they have to dress very conservative or else they will be at minimum, judged by other women. They shouldn’t have to. Do men scrutinize other men in the workplace as bad a women do? Does your female boss get away with commenting on when you do or don’t wear makeup in Zoom meetings? Let a man try that and see what happens. But women get away with it all the time. Why? How about when a female co-worker calls a male client who is nice to you your boyfriend? Do guys get this?
4. A woman gives the new girl a ton of work or busy work. The stuff she should do or is pointless but is now passing the buck. Why not? She had to do it. Why shouldn’t the new girl? Everyone has to go through it. Except, the guys aren’t going through this. It’s just the women.
5. The woman who knows what could make another woman’s work easier. Knowledge that can help the other woman and benefit the team. But no one helped her. So why should she help her female co-worker? How many times has someone complimented your outfit, dish, etc. and you told her where you got it? How to make it? If you are the kind of woman who doesn’t share, I don’t want to be your friend.
6. She is trying to break that glass ceiling. She has worked hard and struggled in this dog eats dog world. She doesn’t care how she gets there. She doesn’t care who she hurts. As long as she comes up on top. That new amazing woman in the workplace is a “triple threat”.
7. She walks around eyeballing skirt lengths and gossipy around the coffee pot. Have you seen her heels? This is an office, not a bar. She is just trying to bag the boss.
8. “He is only talking to you because he thinks you are cute”… She tries to devalue what you offer as a professional or an intelligent human being.
9. One upper. Yeah, that’s great but one time…..
10. Excluding a woman from lunches. Ganging up on a woman so she feels isolated and alone from others in the workplace. It’s like high school but in the work place.
Have you done this? Have you experienced this? If so we are talking about harassment. It is inappropriate, unprofessional, and damaging.
Non-Sexual Harassment Defined?
According to Sidney L. Gold & Associates, non-sexual harassment is, “prohibited conduct under Title VII of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act. What constitutes non-sexual harassment are words, conduct, or actions that relate to race; age, over 40 years of age; gender; skin color; disability; ethnicity; and national origin.
These are their examples of non-sexual harassment in the workplace:
- Racist comments, jokes, nicknames.
- Derisive remarks about another’s religious beliefs or lack of them.
- Inappropriate statement about another’s skin color or ethnicity.
- Remarks or mocking about a co-worker’s disability.
- Offensive statements, verbal or written, about ethnic, racial, or religious stereotypes.
- Derogatory comments another’s age, especially an older person.
But where is the part about when a person is harassed based on their sex?
Generally, if this happens to a woman in the workplace, or anyone in the workplace, they are told to report the incident to human resources. Whether a company has a policy or not, the company then makes a choice to do something about it. My experience is, unfortunately, if it does not make waves for them, then they dismiss it. The individual has the opportunity to report the incident to the EEOC. But guess what, it is just that, a report. Unless a person has a ton of money to sue their employer, it just goes down the toilet.
So really it is up to the individual to stop this doing this, the manager or supervisor to intervene, and the employer to not only create a clear policy and process for dealing with non-sexual harassment, but also to enforce consequences for when a complaint is founded.
Why Does This Happen?
I would love for some psychologist to tell me there is a name for my theory that women who have been verbally, sexually, and/or physically abused can feel so low or unworthy than they also look for or see other women as unworthy and inferior, and treat them as such. Meanwhile, I will just say that an insecure woman is the most dangerous woman, in my humble opinion.
Also, women in the workplace are stereotyped. As much as women hate them, we sure do buy into them. How many screen writers have included the pretty secretary having an affair with the boss? Here is another famous stereotype of women in the workplace.
A lot of women evaluate other women based on their own experience or judge women by how they were judged and not by their work, competency or potential.
And what happens when we express our hurt or concern at these things? Maybe you were told by your Mom or your boss, well she is just jealous of you. Guess what? Their jealously should not be your problem. There is no room for it in the workplace.
BUT there is room for everyone. Every woman. At every age. At every level.
What Can Be Done
You have a choice. You can either lift that woman up, or you can TRY to bring that woman down. If you are a woman being brought down, I am so, so, so sorry. It is not right. It is not fair. It is not nice. I am not going to tell you to get out and go find another job. Or tough it out. You should not have to. And we can’t just snap our fingers and land into a better job. Some of us stay because we need the benefits, or we care for someone else, whatever the reason. A woman should not be treated this way, ESPECIALLY by another woman.
Organizations and companies need to stop tokenism and make authentic and meaningful changes in the workplace. BTW workplace climate surveys are useless if 1. people don’t feel safe to voice their concerns or 2. management does nothing with the findings.
Men Don’t Ignore It
A lot of times men dismiss woman on woman hostility and harassment in the workplace because they just see it as a lot of “woman drama”. Knowing about it and doing nothing to stop it can make you not only liable , but more importantly, it can negatively affect your environment and team.
Stop comparing women in your workplace to your past experiences or other women. Instead look for their value, their strengths, and not their weaknesses. Instead show them through constructive feedback opportunities for growth, and only when you see how it can benefit THEM and the TEAM. This IS NOT ABOUT YOU.
Don’t repeat the cycle. By making women go through some horrible past experience of your own only perpetuates the wrong. It does not improve the person, the situation, culture, or society.
Stop judging and putting value on women the way you were were taught and showed. You hate being judged by your appearance and not your intelligence? Then stop yourself when you about to do the same to another woman. Try to look at each woman as their own person, with their own experiences, good and bad, and work to make at least your interaction with her better.
You know what makes women stronger? Building them up. Being their mentor. Including and engaging them. Giving them that knowledge to make their journey easier. Because you know what happens when you do? A happy employee, harmony in the workplace, more getting done, and better work. The smallest meanness or kind gesture can be leave the deepest wound or greatest memory. I want to note there is a difference in a woman who is intentionally and deliberately sabotaging another for her own personal benefit, versus one that maybe just does not realize how her comments and actions make you feel. The former has no place at work and this woman needs to be reported immediately. In the latter situation, try to speak with this person or their supervisor where applicable as a first start. Hopefully, this is all it takes.
Finally, to all the women I have worked with, but especially my younger women, I hope I have made your work life a little better. If I have wronged you, I am sorry. Thank you for allowing me to this space to share and check out some more reading below on the subject.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LbG-W7hjyLrVMldt-j8q7Vq7nCo_F0Gt/view?usp=sharingQueen Bees, Wannabees and Afraid to Bees: No More ‘Best Enemies’ for Women in Management? Sharon Mavin. Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, Northumberland Building, Northumberland Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST, UK
The queen bee phenomenon: Why women leaders distance themselves from junior women
Belle Derks, Colette Van Laar, Naomi Ellemers Utrecht University, the Netherlands, University of Leuven, Belgium. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1avacuLBTIzMPMy2v3_CNp0AuDeD5IGj4/view?usp=sharing