The PJ Tatler

Mean Girls

Women are on the rise. They’re outperforming, out-educating, and out-earning men.  The ladies have the drive and the ambition that men used to have before we decided that higher education wasn’t important.  With women earning almost 60% of bachelor’s degrees, it’s puzzling how – and when – the international brotherhood of men decided that college wasn’t a high priority.  Also, in 2011, women earned the majority of doctoral degrees, which is part of a three year streak.

Then again, the female-dominated world of education/teaching has been detrimental to boys, who are graded more harshly than girls, and whose characteristics are cast in a negative light, making them learn at a young age that girls are academically superior.  Obviously, both genders are equally capable of success, but that’s for a different column. Now, back to the ladies.  It seems that when a woman reaches the top, her colleagues shouldn’t be expecting any kind of mentoring whatsoever.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece called the Tyranny of the Queen Bee in their March 6 edition.  Peggy Drexler, who penned the column, noted how women would sometime sabotage other women from rising in order to maintain power.  It seems the axiom about power and its ability to corrupt transcends gender.

In an example of this “mean girls” environment, Drexler noted how:

Kelly was a bright woman in her early 30s: whip-smart, well qualified, ambitious—and confused. Even a little frightened.

She worked for a female partner in a big consulting firm. Her boss was so solicitous that Kelly hoped the woman—one of just a few top female partners—might become her mentor. But she began to feel that something was wrong. In meetings, her boss would dismiss her ideas without discussion and even cut her off in mid-sentence. Kelly started to hear about meetings to which she wasn’t invited but felt she should be. She was excluded from her boss’s small circle of confidants.

What confused Kelly was that she was otherwise doing well at the firm. She felt respected and supported by the other senior partners. She had just one problem, but it was a big one. One of the male partners pulled her aside and confirmed Kelly’s suspicions: Her boss had been suggesting to others that Kelly might be happier in a different job, one “more in line with her skills.”

This isn’t a new phenomena.

The term “queen bee syndrome” was coined in the 1970s, following a study led by researchers at the University of Michigan—Graham Staines, Toby Epstein Jayaratne and Carol Tavris—who examined promotion rates and the impact of the women’s movement on the workplace. In a 1974 article in Psychology Today, they presented their findings, based on more than 20,000 responses to reader surveys in that magazine and Redbook. They found that women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women.

It’s still thriving today, and Drexler notes the irony of women clamoring against unfair treatment in the workplace – but end up eating their own.  It’s like the film Love Crime.  Actress Kristin Scott Thomas is a ruthless boss at a corporation, who steals the idea of her protégé.  The young woman, who Thomas’ character humiliates, embarks on a campaign of revenge against her.  Yes, it’s a movie – but highlights the viciousness amongst women in the workplace.

Even more disconcerting is the fact that 95% of females in the workplace feel that another woman has engaged in trying to sabotage their careers, according to a 2011 American Management Association survey.  In 2007, the:

San Francisco-based Employment Law Alliance found that 45% of respondents had been bullied at the office—verbal abuse, job sabotage, misuse of authority, deliberate destruction of relationships—and that 40% of the reported bullies were women. In 2010, the Workplace Bullying Institute, a national education and advocacy group, reported that female bullies directed their hostilities toward other women 80% of the time—up 9% since 2007. Male bullies, by contrast, were generally equal-opportunity tormentors.

Yes, as the American workplace becomes more diverse, and less of a boys’ club, the thoughts of women creating a more tranquil working environment isn’t a forgone conclusion.  In fact, with females deliberately targeting other females,  it seems women will face more abuse dealing with their own.  However, Drexler notes that women do show less “deference” and “respect” for female bosses, than male ones.  So, while it may be an “end of men” era, although I find that term loaded, it seems that the women have more to fear from colleagues of the same sex, instead of those carrying a Y chromosome.