Bully Broads

May 14, 2009

It took me 10 tables before someone said it was ok to sit with them, but even then I was told if a friend showed up, I would be asked to find another seat. As the youngest person in the room, a stranger and the newest employee, I originally thought I would be welcomed and given all kinds of advice, but apparently my expectations were not to be realized. I never even got asked what I did; if I had, I would have told them about completing my PhD several months previously and being asked to represent women scientists on a government panel. I thought to find these women interested in what I had done, in helping me conquer the challenges they themselves had faced. Boy, was I wrong.

This story was told to me by a young woman as we shared a wall, leaning back for a few minutes, taking a break from the meeting we were attending. I find I often get stories like these the minute I mention the fact that I work for a woman’s advocacy organization, AAUW. The actual stories are different, but this particular theme remains the same, the unexpected and often hostile reception a younger person receives from someone older, in this case women. This young woman went on to say that she was told, “We had to make our own way without help; why should you have it any easier?”

Women’s bullying other women is the foundation for a recent New York Times story about the results of the Workplace Bullying Institute poll on bullying in the workplace. Some of the findings point to the idea that women are “less likely to respond to aggression with aggression” but that lack of women being chosen for executive positions (yes, that glass/marble ceiling at it again) makes competition for those spots especially fierce:

After five decades of striving for equality, women make up more than 50 percent of management, professional and related occupations, says Catalyst, the nonprofit research group. And yet, its 2008 census found, only 15.7 percent of Fortune 500 officers and 15.2 percent of directors were women.

Leadership specialists wonder, are women being “overly aggressive” because there are too few opportunities for advancement? Or is it stereotyping and women are only perceived as being overly aggressive? Is there a double standard at work?

Research on gender stereotyping from Catalyst suggests that no matter how women choose to lead, they are perceived as “never just right.” What’s more, the group found, women must work twice as hard as men to achieve the same level of recognition and prove they can lead.

Have you mentored a younger woman lately? Have you asked her what her interests are, what her challenges have been, how you could help her? Have you made a point of welcoming her into your environment, whether at work, in a meeting, at an event? Don’t you wish you had had a mentor if you didn’t? Wouldn’t it be great to offer that warmth and knowledge to someone else? Have you given or received mentorship from a woman that was memorable? Tell us your story.

(Oh yeah, the term “Bully Broads” came from the New York Times story — it was the name given to a group of female executives receiving coaching, who had acknowledged they also had major blind spots about being politic at work. )

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By:   |   May 14, 2009

1 Comment

  1. meg says:

    I feel like the statistics might be a bit skewed…when men exhibit the same behavior that women do, it’s being assertive or just a natural extension of their higher rank, not being a bully. Any thoughts?

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