Monday, May 11, 2009

Women Bully. And?

The current most emailed article in the NYTimes online is about women bullying each other in the workplace. It's written in the tone of an expose about the shocking fact that women bully each other.

It’s probably no surprise that most of these bullies are men, as a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an advocacy group, makes clear. But a good 40 percent of bullies are women. And at least the male bullies take an egalitarian approach, mowing down men and women pretty much in equal measure. The women appear to prefer their own kind, choosing other women as targets more than 70 percent of the time.

Surprise! Or not. I don't find this at all shocking. Saddening, yes. Shocking, no. Nor do I think we need to hold workshops to keep women from bullying each other specifically. Yes, it'd be great to stop all bullying in the workplace. All of it, meaning the bullying by the men too. But you can't expect women trying to make it to the top in an already hostile workplace to abide by different rules than the men do. And given the backlash of affirmative action and the glass ceiling, it makes perfect sense that women bully each other more than they do men - it's the logical choice to try to take down the weakest of the group who are also seen as your direct competitors. It may not work well for you in the long run. After you eliminate all the other women, you're next (and while the men may be "mowing down men and women pretty much in equal measure," are they mowing them down proportionally or actually in equal measure?). Still, in the moment, to get to that next promotion, it's a logical choice. Thinking that women should act differently to help each other out is either naive or paternalistic.

Yet I don't think that bullying is necessary. And I'm glad that in academia in computer science there seems to be a much more cooperative community that happily gives advice at conferences and the like. But perhaps the bullying exists and it's me that's naive.


Anonymous said...

You are the naive one. Sorry.

sorelle said...

Anon - I was hoping for something more illuminating. Do you have examples? Explanations? Without at least those, I'll remain naive/unconvinced.

Anonymous said...

"But a good 40 percent of bullies are women"

I guess this really depends on where you work because there aren't 40 percent of women at levels high enough in the corporate power structure to bully me at my job.

Alex McFerron said...

In my career women have been my best mentors. I can not relate to the article but that doesn't mean that others can't. Personally, women ahead of me have helped me termendously. I am lucky.

Muggins said...

The bullying exists. It's not necessarily a large portion of what goes on; 99% of the treatment I have received from other CS folks has been great, both from men and especially from women.

But once I did get bullied; I got publically verbally humiliated by a man in authority, in front of a major national conference in my field.

Reactions from other men varied. One reaction to me was sympathetic, but he said "he doesn't like his authority challenged" (I don't know if that was an excuse or a warning for the future).

No one else said anything to me directly, but when I vented at a truly stellar colleague who wasn't at the conference, he went hunting for more reactions from men who were there. One reaction was "Oh it was nothing, I wouldn't think anything of it."; another reaction was "Oh well she shouldn't have done that" (hey! had he not heard of two sides to a story? He just *assumed* I was in the wrong having only heard from the bully?). The other reaction (from a man of integrity) was one of horror and shock that I had been treated like that in public.

1 out of 3. 1 out of 3 with enough common decency to recognise appalling treatment of a woman by a senior man.
It gives me quite a pause for thought.

Oh btw, I did eventually confront the bully. He didn't think he'd done anything wrong and gave one of those non-apology apologies.

So now I don't wonder why there are such few women there at that conference any more, even for CS. I haven't gone back, nor do I feel inclined to.

sorelle said...

Muggins - Actually, your story reminds me of others I have heard (and witnessed). I definitely agree that bullying takes place in conference questioning sessions. I was thinking of it in more of a continuous someone-you-see-every-day manner, but it's clear that I should broaden that.