Women bullying women in the workplace is a worryingly common phenomenon and one that is important for leaders to understand and deal with; because, according to this Idea, its negative effects can ripple throughout an organization. Here, a metaphor involving priming, painting, peeling, and polishing is used to explain how such bullying occurs, and how it can be overcome.
Have you heard of the ‘pink elephant in the room?’ If you are a woman in the US, you might be one of up to 70% of women that have experienced this: women bullying women (WBW) at work. Although it is unlikely that most women who bully other women consciously decide do so to destroy other women’s professional lives, this can often be the result.
According to faculty from the University of New Mexico and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, women bully other women at work more than twice as often as they target men. They define workplace bullying as “repeated and persistent negative actions towards one or more individual(s), which involve a perceived power imbalance and create a hostile work environment.”
In their paper, which featured as a chapter in the book Gender and the Dysfunctional Workplace, Elizabeth Dickinson and her fellow researchers suggest that the WBW phenomena involves four patterns, or processes: priming, painting, peeling, and polishing.
Discussing this Idea, Dickinson says it is “extremely important” for organizations to understand the WBW phenomena, as without broader organizational and cultural intervention and reform — including acknowledging, understanding, and addressing the issue — change will be difficult. Dickinson’s advice is threefold:
Priming, Painting, Peeling, and Polishing: Constructing and Deconstructing the Woman-Bullying-Woman Identity at Work, “Lutgen-Sandvik, Pamela”, “Dickinson, Elizabeth. A” and “Foss, Karen. A”, Gender and the Dysfunctional Workplace (2011)
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