Women Bullying Women? – Not in a Respectful Workplace

By | 2017-01-13T13:42:27+00:00 May 27th, 2009|Categories: Respectful Workplace|Tags: , |4 Comments

Twice in the last six months the NY Times has featured articles about women bullying other women at work. In January 2009 it was A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting. More recently, on May 10, Mother’s Day, it was Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work.

This last article seems to have touched a nerve.  A veritable frenzy of tweets and re-tweets about the subject appeared on Twitter. Journalists and bloggers in both the US and Canada picked up on the story and ran subsequent features.

From my perspective all of this publicity is great. It is crucial to raise awareness about the prevalence of workplace bullying. My consulting work has unfortunately afforded me numerous opportunities to witness the devastation that often results when women bully other women at work. Both careers and personal lives can be ruined when bullying is allowed to continue unchecked.

Why do women do it? For the same reason that men do – because they can. Women can only bully others at work if the workplace culture condones, encourages or turns a blind eye to disrespectful behaviour like bullying and harassment.

In my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit I feature 5 “employers of choice” who embrace respect as a core organizational value. I asked each of the individuals I spoke to from those companies whether or not they kept statistics on complaints of harassment and bullying.  Inevitably I heard a variation of this response from Val Duffey, HR Director at KPMG Canada. “What people are accountable for is respectful, tolerant, diverse behaviour, and we measure that in the environment. They (bullying and harassment) don’t happen because they are at odds with the culture. It just wouldn’t be tolerated.”

If a workplace culture promotes an attitude of cutthroat competition for opportunities that encourages divisiveness and mistrust among employees. If it focuses on bottom line at the expense of workplace relationships, that erodes collaboration and teamwork. If it fosters the traditional command and control managerial model, that facilitates workplace bullying.  Culture shapes behaviour, and behaviour affects workplace relationships, performance and profitability.

Bullying is by definition disrespectful behaviour. Whether it is women targeting women, or men targeting women, or women targeting men, bottom line is that it is destructive and costly behaviour that does not belong in any workplace. In a respectful workplace culture, all workplace practices and behaviours mirror the core value of respect. As a result, the behavioural norm for everyone, women and men alike, becomes one of respectful interactions, respectful communication, and respectful relationships. The result is a workplace community where being respectful is just “way it is around here”.

Sounds like the kind of community most people, regardless of gender, would want to be working in. What about you?

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About the Author:

Erica Pinsky
Erica Pinsky, B.A., M.Sc, CHRP, is an engaging and inspirational speaker, author and consultant working with organizations to build respectful and inclusive workplace cultures that attract and retain quality employees. Erica’s book, Road to Respect, Path to Profit gives companies a road map to success in today’s challenging business climate. For more information, visit ericapinskyinc.ca.


  1. Mimi June 1, 2009 at 8:45 am

    I have been a victim of a woman bully. Unfortunately, it was swept under the rug. Nothing was done to the bully, in fact this particular individual is still allowed to work as nothing has happened. My supervisor and manager both are aware of the situation and frankly they both have turned a blind eye to it. They both didn’t acknowledge that this individual should have been disciplined. They are so afraid of this individual that they decided that they would address it as a group when in fact it was not a group issue. They decided that it would be better than actually confronting this individual head on. I was disappointed in how it was handled and now this individual is now buddy, buddy with the manager. She is all smiles because once again she was not put in her place.

  2. Erica Pinsky June 3, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Mimi, I am sorry to hear of your experience, which is unfortunatly all too typical of how these situations are handled. Bullying is a a power based behaviour intended to intimidate and control and it produces that environment of fear. I have had situations where an Executive Director had someone on his staff that exhibited bullying behaviors, and in this case, unlike most she bullied up as well as down. Even though he had the power , he was afraid and unsure of what to do. I believe it is only through exposing the destructive and costly nature of this behavior to the organizational bottom line that will help get employers to realize the importance of dealing with it. We also need awareness to empower those that might be targeted to be able to recognize what is happening and do something to save themselves. Often that means quitting if it continues unchecked, as there are no other options if management does not take action as happened in your case.

  3. Agnes Hill September 25, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    If got to this article is because I was searching for “Respectful Communication”. Reading these lines it makes me realize some points I forgot about human behavior as envy, rudeness, fear and egocentricity. In the past days I was enforced to introduce a concern of Harassment toward my direct Supervisor who is a woman.

    I noticed Mrs. X always uses demining comments of alls colleagues and have a very active gossip club, of course, always on their back. In the beginning I didn’t pay too much attention thinking to myself it is her personality and have to respect that.

    Nevertheless, with the time it really became a concern due the comments and the behavior begun to be more aimed toward my person. I noticed mocking adjectives introducing me to others, discriminating me to participate in social events and even trying to help others. This kind of practice really bothers me when she started to create a very hostile environment, influencing others co-workers to have the same position.

    Although all the mentioned points, I continued to accomplish all my tasks, avoiding unnecessary conversations and situations, just letting go those facts to keep away any confrontation. With the months I noticed that every time I had to suggest or make any comment she begun to accuse me of aggressiveness to the point I had to talk with her Supervisor exposing the lack of a normal communication with this person. As you can imagine, that didn’t help at all.

    The day she had to leave office for surgery, she assigns me all the responsibilities and duties, naming other person as acting Supervisor. Honestly I didn’t care, was a happy period for me, a lot of work but with no stress, just doing my job as best as I could.

    Last Monday, as soon she entered the room the first phrase I heard was “it seems you are not happy to see me” only because I didn’t pay to much enthusiasm (hugging and staring at her) with my greeting. Since then I think she begins to find any excuse to start a confrontation. Two days after in a middle of a conversation she started to elevate the tone, accusing me of being aggressive. In several times I invite her to stop the conversation and talk it over later but she got to the point of threaten me.
    Immediately she scheduled a meeting with the bosses. I can’t tell you all the stress this situation puts on me, I couldn’t find any other option but seek for help to Human Resources which only invite me to talk about it in some opportunity.

    Thankfully, in the meeting with our bosses we try to clear some hostility but for sure the letter I sent to HR stopped her to go farther with her claim against me.

    What I have learned from this situation is to STOP THE BULLYING from the beginning, if you don’t feel comfortable with some behavior or words the best way is to talk about it with the appropriate channels, perhaps this will have a very high cost socially and even the price will be your job, but the cost of a healthier state of mind is more worthy for sure.

  4. Erica Pinsky November 3, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Thanks for your comment Agnes and sorry I didn’t see it sooner. You have learned the key lesson in self-respect – to speak up for ourselves. A job cannot ever be as important as either our health or our self-esteem.

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