When women collide: A bullying problem in the workplace

Three steps to ease the conflicts that can hold women back

A high-performing marketing executive, "Samantha" was never so in synch with a colleague. The minute "Hannah" settled into the office next to her, she bonded with Samantha about work, client stories, even her fashion sense.   

When Hannah invited Samantha to after-work champagne cocktails, Hannah celebrated the exciting fizz of this new work friendship. Samantha thought nothing of it when, midway through a fun, social evening, Hannah asked to hear all about Samantha’s current project.

At the end of the evening, Hannah raised her glass and toasted Samantha’s weeks of intense work. After all, that’s what friends do.   

At the staff meeting four days later, Hannah announced that she had an exciting idea to present to the team. Hannah proceeded to present Samantha’s exciting project for approval, passing it off as her own.  

“Okay, wait!” Samantha protested. “This was the project I’ve worked on since March. Let’s be real here.”

Samantha turned to her manager, knowing he would set things right. Instead, he said, “You know, I’m disappointed in you, Samantha. Hannah has been warning our entire team for weeks about your undermining her. In fact, she predicted you’d try to take credit for all her work today. Get a grip, Samantha, and stay in your own lane from now on.”

A month later, Hannah was promoted. Samantha updated her resume and resigned herself to leaving a job she loved. Sound even a bit familiar to some of you?

This story is a hybrid of the avalanche of the women-versus-women accounts that have come on my journalist’s radar the past three years as I’ve researched and written my book, Mending the Sisterhood & Ending Women’s Bullying. I’m convinced that the conversation about how to ease this issue is one of the most timely, needed workplace conversations.  

My interviews and accounts from more than 50 women show that women’s blocking, shunning, undermining and bullying of other women—usually in covert fashion—is  alarmingly common. And it’s typically ignored and unresolved by workplace leaders, human resources and business owners.

Countless studies show that any form of bullying leads to a loss of top talent, productivity, respect and profits. Women-on-women abuse holds all women back from advancement at a time when the opportunities for women have never been so abundant.

With so many  doors opening for women, this is the time for women to champion one another with great collaboration, knowing we’re all in this together. At stake: gender balance, wage equity and rights for all women, here and across the world.

In that spirit, here are three things we all can do to ease women versus women bullying:

SHINE A LIGHT ON THE ISSUE: Whether you're a CEO or an HR director, you can ease this challenge by having an authentic, often long-overdue conversation about it. We can’t change what we won’t acknowledge. We can’t end something, once and for all, if we don’t admit it’s all around us. Women-on-women conflicts have escalated because they’re often swept under the rug or dismissed as “not an issue.”  

CALL YOURSELF AND OTHERS UP TO SOMETHING GREATER: Unleash your organizational brilliance by creating women-strong initiatives, communication, mentoring and celebrations. Create programs, policies and a culture for women to thrive. Create opportunities for women to use their unique leadership styles and collaborate with one another. Launch programs and events at which women can build connections. Express your own gifts and power, and create openings for others to do the same.

DECLARE AN END TO BULLYING: Workplaces can be more accountable for workplace bullying by clearly advocating for zero tolerance. The workplaces that declare that bullying has no place in their organizations  thrive and have higher employee retention. Conduct trainings on what bullying looks like, how to report it and the steps needed to end it. Create avenues for bullying to be reported and seriously addressed. Do proactive “check ins” with your teams to see if the anti-bullying policies are working. Keep working together to make change happen, and celebrate your successes. 

 

Women Powering Change gives more than 1,000 attendees an opportunity to discover what Colorado organizations are doing to catalyze social change and connect with women leaders, activists and philanthropists. Women Powering Change 2016 will be July 14 at the Mile High Station. Learn more!

Categories: Management & Leadership, Web Exclusives