On recently overhearing a conversation between two women (OK, I was earwigging!) who spent their time verbally slating other women, I was taken aback by the viciousness.   

It made me think about why women are so much more mean, underhanded and brutal than men are to one another. More deliberate. Yet often more unconsciously and ultimately just horribly mean!

With that in mind, eggs is eggs that absolutely every woman would be able to raise a hand into the air to confirm they have survived at least one mean girl/woman in their past and can relate when I say one who has dismissed, put down, or even socially tormented them.  It is interesting that in general, women do not possess the solidarity we may hope for and this is especially true in the workplace.

According to a study, women appear to be more sensitive than men to social exclusion, and when they feel threatened by the prospect of being left out, their first response may be to socially exclude a third party. Again, for any woman who's been on the receiving end of a female bully, this will come as no surprise!

Personally, I have found not only on a professional level, women who are mean-spirited about other women stems from them feeling inadequate in an area of life they value highly.   They are not critical of other women because they think less of them; but because they are envious.   And according to research, the envious woman is the most common profile (and the most spiteful).  She is competitive and has some sort of power derived either from her position in the workplace (e.g., manager/director) or from the way she interacts (e.g., influences other through her position and is friends with her immediate boss who is even more powerful).  

Word of warning and caution, be wary of these competitive-envious women, as they tend to be very toxic, especially if these traits are combined with narcissism.  When they risk looking incompetent at work – they will attack others and their need for control can be triggered by a new staff member, or another woman (not necessarily the same level or status) who dares to be different at work and becomes a threat.

Common careers where women face bullying by other women are usually in male-dominated environments where the need to be hyper-aggressive to get ahead is demonstrated.

But why do so many women feel that they must work hard to secure whatever social power they can, which takes the form of exclusionary practices with other women?  Why are some women so nasty to other women, especially at work where we’re supposedly being paid to achieve the same organisational goals?

Essentially there seems to be three main reasons why women are nasty to other women; 1) Because they project their unwanted parts especially fear, jealousy, suspicion, resentment, rage, anxiety or lack of self esteem & confidence. 2) Because they can get away with it as a sport, fun, remedy to boredom and take delight in spite. 3) Because they don’t have the interpersonal and intrapersonal communication skills to recognise or alter their behaviour. 

40% of workplace bullies are women and female bullies pick on other women more than 70% of the time.  It has been proven time and again that women can be nastier bullies than men as they undermine, berate, and intimidate women who are in a weaker position.

But there should never be any excuses to be made for a bully.  Never any justification.  No tolerance.  No time should ever be spent indulging them!  The only time invested in them should be to expose them for what and who they are! 

Workplace bullying is four times more common than sexual harassment and racial discrimination and it continues to be rife no matter how many policies and procedures are in place.  Regretfully policies and procedures can be ignored and used as a tick box exercise which allows bullying to continue to exist.

Prevention in place often require employees to address their bullying concerns directly to their Managers; which doesn’t take into account that a lot of bullies are the managers!  Also, when women bullying women is mentioned, it often gets dismissed as just two women being ‘catty’ without recognising the seriousness of the behaviour.

The bully in the workplace is the absolute lowest of the low!   Bullying can turn an idyllic job into something you dread. Being a target of a bully not only affects your work life, but it can also affect your health; causes headaches, loss of appetite, high blood pressure, insomnia, clinical depression, panic attacks, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

Clearly workplace bullying is not something to be taken lightly. So, why do some women bully others in the workplace?  They do it as they enjoy feeling powerful bargaining that the other woman will be less confrontational when attacked and will turn their backs on bad behaviour in a way that most men might not.

Women who bully are threatened by the potential success of others; they are fearful they may be outshined or reveal their shortcomings. Normally they have a perfectionist or nit-picky personality combined with superiority about their skills and abilities always reiterating what they have achieved and how right they always are.  Stress and pressure to be high performing, with more work to do and fewer people to do it.  They have mental health problems or a personality disorder.

The clearest sign of bullying is something that happens again and again!

The abuse can include: intimidating or humiliating behaviour, criticism or sabotage, blaming, making out you are incompetent at your job without evidence or substance; taking credit, trying to replace you.   A woman’s style of bullying is a lot subtler than men’s.  They are a lot more calculated.

Women are better at reading emotions, so are good at those little digs that most men wouldn’t even register; a quick glare or turning away and talking to someone else.

Women bullies will often befriend you and then use the information to put their plans into place.  Less than one percent of co-workers will stand up when they see their colleagues tormented, fearing their own jobs.  It’s very difficult to trust again after being bullied or humiliated at work

Meanwhile, bullies can only stop their behaviour once they develop the ability to tolerate distress – rather than acting aggressively – and learn to positively process their shame.

Tips to deal with being bullied at work: -

Don’t get emotional. Bullies take pleasure in emotionally manipulating people. Stay calm and rational to diffuse the situation. 

Don’t blame yourself. Acknowledge that this is not about you; it’s about the bully.  Don’t lose your confidence or think you are incapable or incompetent–they are usually beating you at a mind game, not based on your actual work performance. 

Build a support network. Instead of allowing the bully to make you retreat into your office, work on building your relationships with your co-workers so that you have support and the bully doesn’t turn them against you as well (although she will try, and will may even be successful).

Document everything. Keep a journal (on your personal computer or in writing but never leave it in the office) of what happened when (and who witnessed it) so that if you need to escalate this problem.  The policy will advise you how to do this but take external advice and make sure you have the information you need to make your case.  Keep emails and notes.

Seek help. If you think you’re being bullied, it’s time to start talking to others who can help you manage this situation. Try a mentor, advocate, seasoned/experienced friend, even a legal advocate who specialises in bullying and inappropriate or discriminatory behaviour in the workplace.

Tread lightly when approaching the HR department. They work for the company, not you, so you must be careful about what you share depending on how well liked and supported your bully is within the organization.

HR doesn’t have the luxury of keeping everything you say confidential so don’t treat a meeting with them like a counselling session where you should share everything you think/feel or assume that they can or will fix the problem for you.

Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about bullying, your company’s policies on inappropriate behaviour and occupational law regarding this kind of experience.  The more you know the better your chances of successfully dealing with this situation.

Don’t expect to change the bully. Real behaviour change is difficult, and it takes time.  You have no control over a bully’s willingness to accept that they have a problem and to work on it.  You can do your best to manage the situation but it’s really the company’s responsibility to be observant and responsive to the needs of their workers and the general work environment.  In the worst-case scenario you may need to leave your job or be prepared for a long hard fight with your bully and your employer.

But whatever you do remember Karma is the biggest bitch of all – but only to those who deserve it!