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Women are mean to each other — or so we are told

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  • Women often report they are dissatisfied with their same-gender workplace relationships. But external context, not internal qualities, is at the root of women’s same-gender conflicts.

Source | www.chieflearningofficer.com | Alton B. Harris | Andrea S. Kramer

Organizations need to understand why women often report dissatisfaction with their workplace relationships with other women. There is a raft of popular “self-help” books that assume women are fundamentally antagonistic toward one another. These books paint an ugly picture of women’s supposed basic nature: “Mean Girls at Work,” “Working with Bitches,” “Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman,” “The Stiletto in Your Back,” “Tripping the Prom Queen,” “Mean Girls Grown Up,” and “Mean Girls, Meaner Women.”

We believe that this “women are mean to each other” trope is profoundly misguided. We focused our research for our new book, “It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace: Women’s Conflict At Work and the Bias That Built It,” on why women so often report they are dissatisfied with their same-gender workplace relationships. What we found is that women are indeed more concerned about their same-gender relationships than men, but it is not because of some unique female characteristic. Rather, it is because of the biased nature of their workplaces. Indeed, we found that women desire strong, supportive same-gender relationships. But we wanted to understand the persistence of this “women are mean to each other” notion, so we dug into the books in this genre.

All of these books take for granted that women have distinctive female personality characteristics that prompt them to bully other women, spread malicious rumors, behave in two-faced ways, seek to undermine other women’s self-confidence and secretly plot to destroy other women’s professional standing. These books assert that women’s same-gender relationships are obviously shaped by jealousy, envy and competitiveness.

We will explore this claim more fully in a moment. But first, we want to make clear that women and men are not psychologically, emotionally or intellectually different from men. Women’s difficulties in achieving satisfying same-gender workplace relationships have nothing to do with some supposedly unique aspect of the way they “are”—whether because of nature, nurture or both. By assuming that there are fixed, identifiable differences between women and men, these books deflect attention from the substantial evidence that women and men are more alike than different.

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Source
www.chieflearningofficer.com
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