When the Wrong Woman Wins - Building Bullies and Perpetuating Patriarch
The corporate office is the habitat of the powerful. Corporate America is the kind of place that is natural for white males. The game of business has a unique military-sports theme, the rules of which were established years ago by White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant male 'captains of industry.' The military influence is evident in organizational form and structure, whereas the organization's function (to win the game or make a profit) is influenced by team sports. (p. 4)
The bully's goals parallel those found both in military battles and in sports arenas; competition is the ultimate game in the bully's mind, and winning requires a singular focus. In order to win, bullies believe that their targets must be beaten up and eliminated (Namie & Namie, 2000). New leaders stepping into this existing military/sports model must seek and destroy the weakest opponents in order to prove their worthiness to the powers that be. Many managers who use these bullying techniques are viewed as effective and are rewarded for their take-no-prisoners style of tough leadership (Russell, 2001). Divide and conquer is the mode of operation that allows the bullies to maintain control over their employees. Any show of collegiality among ranks is perceived as threatening and quickly dispersed to forbid the development of strength in opposition (Cox, 1993).As the numbers illustrate, women unfortunately are enlisting, or are being drafted, into the bully battalion at a rate similar to that of their male counterparts. And, more frequently than men, the opponents women challenge are other women (Namie & Namie, 2000). This becomes a more painful and confusing dynamic because the existing gender schemas indicate that women should be nurturing caregivers-especially toward the females who are already disadvantaged in the eyes of corporate observers. This is also a damaging dynamic, because women who oppress other women help to maintain the existing social order in which men remain dominant and women are subordinate (Acker, 1990; Brunner & Costello, 2002).The Bully's Role in Perpetuating TyrannyIf there is a perceived lack of rewards for females throughout the corporate structure, the competition for power among women may be intensified. Because feminine traits, skills, qualifications, and accomplishments are undervalued in a masculine system, certain women may feel a greater need to demean other women in order to protect the little power base they have already achieved (Ely & Meyerson, 2000). With lower rank and limited financial resources, the most vulnerable member of the corporation is typically the subordinate female, and she provides the bully with the easiest prey in the competition. Thus, female bullies help limit the number of women able to challenge the existing hierarchy.Through bully methods, women supervisors and managers may provide organizations with the underhanded behaviors that keep competent women from being noticed and promoted. When male executives allow female bullies to demonstrate these bad behaviors toward other women, the men remove themselves from the risk of legal and ethical concerns. Thus, female bullies protect and preserve the male-dominated, existing structure while men are able to keep their hands clean. The bully behavior is tolerated because "organizations of all kinds keep a comfortable place for bosses who will do their dirty work" (Hornstein, 1996, p. 103). Workers who publicly question "why can't women get along?" may not realize the part that the system plays in these power dynamics. The woman promoted to the highest levels in the organization may not need to possess great credentials or management skills. In fact, her sole strength may be her ability to puppet upper management's traditional agenda. So in addition to keeping other, more competent women from advancing, the female bully also serves as a poor representative and role model for workingwomen in general.Lewis Maltby, President of the National Work Rights Institute, states, "Bullying is the sexual harassment of 20 years ago; everybody knows about it, but nobody wants to admit it" (Russell, 2001, p. 4). However, when a mean woman discriminates, harasses, and mistreats other women and no man is deemed responsible, it is difficult for the victim to find protection or legal recourse. In 1980, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) developed guidelines for identifying and dealing with a hostile work environment, but the interpretation is based on sexual discrimination and harassment, and bullying has yet to be defined in concrete legal terms. This means that the bully's victim, unlike the victim of sexual harassment, has no clear-cut path of protection to follow. And without consistent legal avenues readily available, the bully's victim cannotexpect an alteration of organizational behavior and may believe that changing jobs is her only option. According to the US Hostile Workplace Survey (Namie, 2000), 82% of bullied employees lost their jobs, and 38% left voluntarily. The target that chooses to stay in the organization may experience a drop in productivity, effectiveness, and opportunities for advancement. The Canada Safety Council (Institute of Management and Administration [IOMA], 2001) estimates that up to 52% of a target's day is devoted to counter-bully tactics such as building a defensive network, developing counteractive strategies, or seeking political allies. So, in reality, the bully has won, and the organizational structure remains intact. Within this type of corporate atmosphere, other employees, wondering if they are the next target, understand that challenging the status quo may involve significant risk. In fact, employees often rally to support the bully out of fear of reprisals, thus weakening the prospects of other women forming support coalitions (Namie, 2000). Research shows majority group members are threatened by minorities who might join together for support (Cox, 1993); so the female bully once again, albeit inadvertently, helps to maintain a structure that limits the opportunities for all women,including the bully. Even though she may feel she has joined the "good old boys' club", the club ultimately may not provide the female bully with the same upper-level positions afforded to its other members. Publicly, male leaders may compliment female bullies for demonstrating that "she kicks ass with the best of them" or "she's hard as nails," (Martin, 1996, p. 191); and in only 7% of the reported cases was the bully punished, transferred or terminated (Namie, 2000). But as Ely and Meyerson (2000) point out, aggressive, task-oriented women may also be criticized privately. While this criticism may remain secret because the organizational hierarchy does not want to appear discriminatory to women, it nevertheless may limit the bully's advancement thereby blocking the route for other women.
Bully behavior, whether perpetrated by men or women, should be examined further because of the long-term costs allocated to both employees and the organizations in which they work. Health problems, legal problems, and productivity problems tied to bully behavior all represent expenses that could be avoided (Flynn, 1999; Hornstein, 1996; Namie, 2000). Turnover expense also should be examined-- and not just as it relates to replacing targets. Women who do not buy into a masculine style of leadership may find themselves in a position where they feel forced either to conform to bully behavior or to take their talents elsewhere; and starting over slows their progress. "To the extent that employees find it difficult to conform to the image of the successful employee, or find it difficult to bring all of their relevant skills and insights to their jobs, important human resources are lost" (Ely & Meyerson, 2000, p. 128). Like other researchers, we agree that corporate management needs to acknowledge that bullying is a major employment issue and requires education, training, and a zero tolerance policy. More importantly, bullied employees need to feel there is a place to be heard and that interventions are possible. Existing laws concerning hostile work environment, defamation of character, and vicarious liability may need to be altered or expanded to include bullying behavior as a punishable offense (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC], 1999; Namie & Namie, 2000).Real change, however, is possible only when management is willing to examine the model that rewards just a fraction of the behavioral traits that all employees possess. Until organizations recognize and reward "wholeness" of employees, the feminine and masculine traits we all embody, symptoms of a fragmented workplace will continue to rear their ugly heads. Sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and bullying fall on the same continuum and serve to maintain the existing corporate structure. While there is no shortage of change models available, what does seem to be missing on the part of executive management is willingness or desire to change. Women, even more than men, should not accept that the established model is infallible and certainly should not contribute to its continuing devaluation of feminine characteristics. When the wrong woman wins, all employees lose. For thirty years we have wanted to believe that any woman manager would be a welcome change in any organization. We also have wanted to believe that as a woman climbed the corporate ladder she would extend her hand to other women following the leadership path. Recognizing that women are more likely than men to bully other women is hard to accept and even harder to discuss in a public forum. But the statistics should not be ignored. If half of the bullies in the workplace are women, then women managers need to assume responsibility for analyzing their roles and contributions to this organizational dynamic. Even one bully is too many.
Source - Reproduced from www.worktrauma.org