Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Am Woman, Hear Me … Buzz?

I was chatting with a girlfriend today, and the conversation veered to women in the workplace—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I appreciate my female friendships, and I appreciate women. (This is not just my opinion of myself. I once took a Rorschach inkblot test, and it was right there in the blot—I have good relationships with women.) And, I have had some wonderful female colleagues and bosses. These women were knowledgeable, supportive, and fantastic teachers. But, man, have I met my share of she-devils along the way!

Bullies and liars and backstabbers, oh my! What is going on here?

I am the Queen, and don't you forget it!
Theories abound. Some say it’s the “Queen Bee Syndrome.” The Queen Bee is that female leader determined to maintain her power no matter what. She is no friend to other women aspiring to get ahead in the workplace. Those women are a threat and must be dealt with, so out comes the sarcasm, sly insults, undermining, sabotage, and so forth. Queen Bees are freakin’ unpleasant, but they get away with this behavior because those without power are too fearful for their own survival to say anything, and those with power (mostly men) don’t perceive what’s happening, may view this behavior as harmless or even amusing (cat fight, anyone?), or may be indifferent, reasoning that we’ve all got to learn to fight our own battles. If there happens to be another woman with some power who dares to question the Queen Bee’s tactics, she will become the target of all sorts of malicious retaliation until she is either neutralized or leaves the organization. Ugly stuff. 

In "Caution: Woman Competing at Work," authors Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster pose another theory. They suggest that some women simply haven’t learned the skill of competing in a healthy way. They state that women must unlearn the habit of “covert competition,” a form of aggression that involves indirect put downs that give the covert competitor the perception of “winning.” The authors recommend that women end the cycle of covert competition by “not going there,” that is, not responding negatively to indirect aggression but instead finding ways to react neutrally or collaboratively. The authors’ offer five “Don’t Go There” tips, including “Do not counter attack. Do not roll your eyes at her, badmouth her to your girlfriends, or turn a cold shoulder to her as she walks by.”

In my opinion, this tip is awesome for building character, but it won’t necessarily save your job, provided your nasty girl has no intention of being rehabilitated and is receiving support for her bad behavior. Building character is great, and I highly recommend it—I just wouldn’t want anyone getting her hopes up. Some folks are just plain mean. I think the best of the tips is “practice being friendly toward other women at work without necessarily becoming friends. Be selective about the female colleagues that you let into your inner circle. Let each woman earn your trust.”

The workplace is a competitive arena, and we do need to learn to compete respectfully and professionally within it. Whether you’re dealing with a Queen Bee, a covert competitor, or something else altogether, I’m rooting for you, because again, I appreciate women. Plus, I think work is hard enough without having to deal with this crap. 

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