She looks as though she’s deep in her work, but what she’s really thinking about is how to sabotage and intimidate you or another female in the workplace. Her tactics range from the subtle to the outrageous and they can leave a vulnerable victim in tears, minus a well-deserved promotion or even out of a job. She can even affect your health, according to psychologist Michelle Callahan, writing in a March 13, 2011 article for “The New York Times.” She’s a workplace bully, her preferred targets are other women and her numbers are, unfortunately, legion.
The Bully's Techniques
Women constitute 40 percent of workplace bullies, according to Callahan, and unlike male bullies who usually target both genders equally, women go after other women more than 70 percent of the time. They may use techniques such as glaring at their target, starting or spreading rumors, pointedly ignoring a coworker or even actively sabotaging her work. Some bullies are lone wolves, but many draw in like-minded colleagues who can act just like that nasty clique in high school -- excluding you from the lunch table or whispering and giggling whenever you walk by.
Competition and Aggression
Bullying is usually verbal or psychological, but it may even progress to physical intimidation. In some cases, the bully may be competing directly with the victim for work assignments or promotions, but in others, the bully is jealous or just plain nasty. Careers such as law or finance are more likely to be rife with females who are bullies, according to an April 30, 2012, article in “Forbes Magazine,” because they are male-dominated environments where women must be more aggressive to get ahead.
Reasons for Bullying
Women who bully may do so for a variety of reasons. Some enjoy power trips, especially if the victim just takes the abuse. A bully may be threatened by other women’s success, especially if she has doubts about her own abilities. Some are nit-picking perfectionists who escalate from constant criticism to outright nastiness. Work pressures may combine with a naturally aggressive personality to fuel bad behavior and create a bully. Some bullies are actually mentally ill or have a personality disorder.
Women Bullies are Subtle
While a man who is a bully may exhibit some of the stereotypical behavior of a playground bully, yelling and openly insulting you, women are often more subtle. Women are typically better at reading emotions and can get in the little digs that others may not even notice, such as catching your glance and then deliberately tuning away, not responding to e-mails or requests for information or looking you up and down as if you were a cockroach invading the boardroom.
Don't Play Victim
Whatever the tactics, bullying is only successful if you allow yourself to be sucked into the victim role. This is not about you; it’s about the bully and her need to beat you at a mind game. Continue to do your best work so the bully has no support for her innuendos or outright lies. Document your concerns -- if you need to take it to HR or go up the food chain, you will want ammunition. Remember that HR may or may not be helpful, depending on the bully’s position in the organization. Consult a mentor or counselor for support and advice on how to handle the situation. If all else fails, quit and go elsewhere.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.