Sisterhood Blog

When Women Bully Other Women

By Elissa Strauss

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The road to the corner office isn’t an easy one for a woman. There is the glass ceiling to break, and then the maternal wall to mount and then, if you get that far, there are glass cliffs to avoid. Oh my!

Many are working today to deconstruct these barriers, including pushes for better work/life policies and quotas to ensure fair representation of minorities in positions of managements.

But as psychology professor Peggy Drexler points out, institutional hurdles and shortsighted men aren’t the only thing getting in the way of the rise of women. Other women are often to blame too.

Writing for Forbes, Drexler looks at a study that shows how female employees “are often less respectful of, and deferential to, their female bosses than they are to their male bosses. They question more, push back, and expect a certain level of familiarity or camaraderie that they don’t expect from the men.”

Drexler says this behavior is connected to the way in which women tend to be hypercritical of one another. Indeed, studies have found that women judge one another far more often that men do of other men.

This piece was a follow-up to a longer one Drexler published in the Wall Street Journal a few years back about the rise of the “Queen Bee” boss. These are women who show little interest in supporting the careers of the women who aim to follow in their footsteps. And unfortunately they are on the rise. Drexler writes:

Four decades later, the syndrome still thrives, given new life by the mass ascent of women to management positions. This generation of queen bees is no less determined to secure their hard-won places as alpha females. Far from nurturing the growth of younger female talent, they push aside possible competitors by chipping away at their self-confidence or undermining their professional standing.

With such poor representation of women in the top brass of the business world, it is understandable, even if still condemnable, that women on top feel so protective of their perches. Nevertheless, female camaraderie is still seen as a vital for creating parity in the workplace.

One of the abiding myths surrounding feminism is that if women do it, it must not be sexist. But the fact is, apart from a handful of rather small women’s only communities built over the years, ladies have consistently lived in a man’s world for the vast majority of human existence. No wonder then that we have picked up a few of our customs and habits from our native land, and a distrust of women is one of them. Which is to say, we need to be as conscious as we expect men to be in undoing our biases and stop judging one another so much. We really aren’t so bad, right?


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