Why do women bully women at work?

The Queen Bee Syndrome is real.

This week’s newsletter is brought to you by RecruiterPM:

In this issue:

  • The Gender Pay Gap

  • Why do women bully women at work?

  • The Forrest Gump of Recruiting

  • Pay Equity: Does everyone deserve the same salary?

  • Employee Benefits

  • The Week in Recruiting

CHART: The Gender Pay Gap

According to Census Bureau data analysed by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the gender wage gap stood at 20.3 percent for Americans without a high school degree and grew to roughly 30 percent for workers with a college degree or higher. Even straight out of college, the EPI finds, women get paid $4.50 less per hour than their male peers.

Why Do Women Bully Women at Work?

I have often heard about the glass ceiling as it pertains to women being blocked from advancing to the higher levels of professional success. From what I have heard, often, the reasons for the inequity is male privilege and discrimination. Is that true? At first glance, there certainly seems to be credible evidence for that assertion although there is some progress being made. As of December 7, 2022, women run more than 9.4% of Fortune 500 companies, with 47 women serving as CEOs. In January 2023, the number of female CEOs increased to 53, which is more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies for the first time in history. But why aren’t the scales more gender-balanced in the C-suite? Some would say there are a myriad of reasons, chief among them: unequal pay, stress and burnout, starting a family, and caregiving responsibilities. Yet, after flipping through Netflix, I think there may be another reason – bullying.

Check out these movie clips, the first one from the movie – The Devil Wears Prada.

And this one – Mean Girls

If you take out the over-the-top entertainment from the clips, you see components of the phenomenon known as Queen Bee Syndrome, where women who report to women experience a greater frequency of bullying, abuse, and job sabotage. Why does it happen? Well, women who target other women do so because they feel threatened and insecure, and their biggest fear is another woman will take their position. Another reason is “pathological envy and internalized misogyny” (especially in the HR industry) according to these comments from the Substack – Hacking Narcissism.

Women bully other women because of pathological envy and internalized misogyny. This is rampant in HR, as I have unfortunately had no choice but to work alongside HR my entire career. Many of the mediocre and low performers in HR tend to be the worst bullies yet they rise through the ranks. When someone has targeted you at work and they are bullying you: what they are really doing is disowning the bad parts of themselves and assigning them to you. Bullies burn themselves in effigy. Best to leave asap not all companies tolerate abuse.

Christy C.

Pathological envy and internalized misogyny - each of these deserve their own articles. I've heard about HR being one of the most toxic depts in organisations and are almost exclusively run by women. It reminds me of what I've heard about nursing culture. Scapegoating is one of the strategies used to deny the bully's role in abuse and distract from their conduct. And it sadly is a successful strategy. Thank you so much for weighing in Christy!

Nathalie M.

Many years ago I watched two (extremely intelligent and capable) women compete with one another for the attention of a Director. It was horrid to watch, and, I felt, embarrassing for both of them. In hindsight, I realise that the Director deliberately pitted them against one another as a means of controlling them both. Just as men will often side with power, so too will women. If forced to compete with another woman for recognition, opportunities, rewards … they will compete, and bully, laterally. It is less about gender, and more about power. It just so happens that men hold the majority of powerful positions (in both male and female-dominated industries).

Fiona T.

There were many more comments available on that page. As I read them, it also became apparent that Women may sabotage one another because they feel that helping their female co-workers could jeopardize their own careers; something also reported on here. Hmm… This issue seems like one of those things I am the last to learn about. Did you know that research from the Workplace Bullying Institute found that a third of workplace bullies were women? And that’s not the only stat I found. A 2011 survey of legal secretaries found that not one of them wanted to work with female partners. Among the reasons given was that they were treated in a demeaning fashion, serving as “a punching bag.” And according to Forbes, in 2012, women are “the worst kind of bullies,” apparently more vicious and nastier than their male counterparts. Interesting. It sort of makes me wonder what would happen if a company employed only women, or focused on a female-only IT department? How would the queen bee dynamic play out then? But I digress.

There are typical workplace bullying behaviors like verbal abuse, physically intimidating someone, and/or making fun of someone in front of others or humiliating them in public. Women bullies however tend to be more subtle in their tactics. A few examples of how female bullies harass their victims are…

  • Exclusion from social events or conversations.

  • Spreading rumors or gossiping about them.

  • Criticizing their work or ideas in public.

  • Taking credit for their work or ideas.

  • Undermining their authority or position.

  • Micromanaging their work or setting unrealistic expectations.

  • Making condescending or belittling comments.

  • Withholding information or resources they need to do their job.

  • Sabotaging their work or projects.

  • Using nonverbal behavior such as glaring, rolling eyes, or making faces.

Dealing with bullying from other women at work can be challenging, but there are strategies that can help. Here are some tips for responding to bullying from other women at work that I found online:

  • Document the bullying: Keep a record of all interactions and any instances of bullying or harassment, no matter how minor they may seem.

  • Confront the bully: Politely but firmly assert the right to be treated with respect and make it clear that you won't tolerate any form of bullying or harassment

  • Seek support: Talk to a trusted colleague, friend, or family member about what you're experiencing.

  • Report the bullying: If the bullying persists, consider reporting it to a supervisor, HR representative, or other authority figure.

  • Take care of yourself: Practice self-care by engaging in activities that make you feel good, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones.

  • Seek professional help: If the bullying is affecting your mental health, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor.

It's important to remember that women responding to bullying from other women at work can be a complex and emotionally charged situation. It's essential to prioritize your well-being and seek support when needed and that goes for men as well as women. Sigh.

I solicited on social media that I was looking for queen bee testimonials and received significantly more incoming comments than I thought I would. One person, Anonymous Woman #1 (AW1), related how her boss would assign her projects and then, undermine her at every turn.

I had a previous boss who would ask for data analysis reports in PowerPoint. I’d ask if there were specific things she’d like highlighted and she would never give me any idea of what she wanted to see in graphs, etc. I would spend an entire weekend putting together a PowerPoint for the team invariably. She was shit all over it, stating that nothing she wanted to see was included. She would then tell me what she wanted to see, and I would redo the charts and graphs. When it would come time for the meeting, she would complain to everyone that I didn’t have the information she requested, but that we would include it in a later email. She would do this to everyone. I was not special. She turned throwing people under the bus into an art form.

AW1 went on to say...

When I finally left, it was due to my position being eliminated in our org chart. I wasn’t aware of this at all. She put my termination through a day early because she was going out of town. I discovered my position was being eliminated from the standard email about returning equipment and benefits extensions. When I asked HR why I was notified in this way, they said that she’s horrible and this isn’t uncommon with her. As far as I know, she still works there. Not sure how someone like that keeps their job for so many years.

When I asked AW1 about the long-term effects of that abuse, she added...

When I started working for my current boss, I realized that I was like an abused spouse. I was constantly waiting for my new boss to start backstabbing and she has never been anything but wonderful. 3 years of a great, supportive work environment. It’s been awesome!

One more thing about that horrid boss. The Friday before my position was eliminated, she has me fire 10 members of our recruiting team. It’s was horrible and I felt bad all weekend. And then on Tuesday, I got the term email.

AW #1 was not the only woman to reach out to me.

Anonymous Woman #2 (AW2), a very confident and provocative HR Influencer, shared an account of her early career days with me. When working at a recruitment firm, she dealt with a bona fide female narcissist who lauded praise upon her then gradually undermined her self-confidence and professional reputation in the office. In the end, AW2's boss turned the entire floor of workers against her via a series of lies and gaslighting strategies. Whether through happenstance or providence, AW2 was sent a text intended for someone else and it revealed just how vile her boss' feelings were for her. AW2 was gobsmacked as, to her knowledge, she had done nothing to solicit such vile commentary. Over time, her co-workers detected the real woman behind the visage and anonymous woman #2 was vindicated. Years later, AW2 saw her old boss, and the old boss turned around and walked off to avoid confrontation. (Perhaps the old boss was intimidated by a stronger, more mature and certainly more outspoken version of AW2?)

And another report.

Anonymous Woman #3 (AW3) gave me a gut wrenching account on how she was driven out of a high-paying job because of a queen bee. At the time of interview, AW3 discussed the parameters of the jobs with the queen bee and they came to an agreement on what would be expected. After AW3 was hired however, the parameters were changed and the queen bee held AW3 accountable to unrealistic goals. Despite the bait and switch, AW3 stuck it out and tried to bring about a positive outcome. Every attempt, however, was thwarted by the queen bee who blocked AW3's outreach to other stakeholders. After so many attempts, AW3 decided to take her talents elsewhere where her growth would not be stymied. One victory before departing was an exit interview with HR that she had to lobby for. Ironically, after reporting the queen bee to the global head of HR, the queen bee was promoted to the C-suite a few months later. When AW3 reflects on that time in her career, she is grateful that the experience did not destroy her confidence and prevent her from elevating her career to where it is today. That being said, AW3 was dissappointed by the queen bee's attitude during her tenure at the company. "Women should support other women and she was not one to do so," AW3 said.

And another report where I include a direct quote from anonymous woman #4.

My [Anonymus Woman #4 (AW4)] experience was with a company where the Recruiter I partnered with would gaslight me often. I was the Sourcer, and she was the Recruiter.

She frequently did not call my passive candidates I worked incredibly hard to attract because she was often doing something other than work and then would say they weren't "very good".

However, I would circumvent her and bring them directly to the boss without throwing her under the bus making some other explanation and get them submitted, almost all of them eventually got offers or hired.

I introduced all of the modern software and applications the company used, created the sourcing strategies, met with the clients, hand-held the candidates through the process, and many other things. At a point, I decided I just needed to become a full-cycle recruiter and presented this to my boss. He was completely on board and said he wanted to speak with her first. She somehow convinced him not to promote me but keep things as they were and her explanation to me was that I wouldn't Iike full-cycle recruiting (even though due to her lack of action, I was doing it already). She often undermined my work, had back-handed compliments, and insulting remarks. She was a gaslighting bully. I often suffered headaches, frustration, and tremendous stress on that job because she had the boss under her "spell". It was soooo frustrating!

Anyway, sorry for the novel.

I received a lot of interest on this topic. So much so, I've decided to write a follow-up article for the next issue of this newsletter. Stay tuned for that. In the interim, take some solace in the fact that some people see this as a serious issue. Case in point, there is a national grassroots movement to enact the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) in U.S. states. Its goal is to prevent and correct abusive work environments in American workplaces. You can read about it here. Should all go well, it will become a law similar to the "Act to Prohibit and Prevent Workplace Harassment in Puerto Rico," which was the first workplace bullying law in the United States.

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The Forrest Gump of the Recruiting World

(I was interviewed on the Recruitment Unplugged show and discussed my career and insights into the recruitment industry. Yay!) 

Join us on a riveting journey with @JimStroud a man who turned his Hollywood dreams into a remarkable career in the recruiting world. In this episode, Jim shares his incredible journey from aspiring director and writer to becoming a renowned figure in the recruiting industry. With a career spanning over two decades, Jim has worked with giants like Microsoft, Google, and Randstad Sourceright, leaving an indelible mark in the industry. Dive deep into Jim’s innovative strategies, his love for creativity, and the importance of networking in the ever-evolving recruitment landscape. Don’t miss out on the inspiring story of a man who found his true calling and became a beacon of innovation in the HR world.

The Jim Stroud Podcast

Pay Equity: Does everyone deserve the same salary?

Jim Stroud interviews Robert Sheen, CEO of Trusaic about the state of pay equity, pay transparency, and what companies are doing to achieve pay equity. There is also some debate on if companies should pay everyone the same when some employees work harder, and are more talented, than others. |

Comic: Employee Benefits

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