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Women at Work = Warfare?

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Remember that Chris Rock sketch where he says that every  woman has someone at her place of work who is out to destroy her? A recent report in the New York Times highlighted the findings of a study which claims that women undermine and sabotage each other in the workplace. According to the study,

Instead of helping to build one another’s careers, [women] sometimes derail them — for example, by limiting access to important meetings and committees; withholding information, assignments and promotions; or blocking the way to mentors and higher-ups.

Tsk! Ovary Owners! You just can’t trust them.

As a feminst, the study is troubling for me on many fronts, but mainly because it doesn’t bear out in my experiences. Perhaps I’m too young, or maybe just lucky, but I have never had a Devil Wears Prada moment in my working life. I’d had crazy female bosses, to be sure: there was the one who threated to poo in our handbags if we didn’t meet our sales target, and there was another one who sent us home early during our busiest week of the year so she could get hair nails done and her weave fixed before going out clubbing. But they never bullied me or otherwise attempt to disrupt my career.

From the other side of the debate, I’d hate to think that I’ve ever sabotaged or intimidated anyone who has worked under me. After all, I’m for female empowerment: I like seeing women progress. That isn’t to say that I would promote a woman ahead of a better-qualified man; when t comes down to brass tacks, I just want someone who can get the job done with minimal supervision and earn us some money.

I think perhaps that the findings of the survey a matter of perception. If a man strides about the office issuing commands and yelling at staff, he’s “assertive” and “in control.” Were a woman to do the same thing, however, she would be branded a “bitch” and a “ball-breaker.” Maybe women are simply hed to a different standard than men. Given their tradition role as supportive nurturers, it could be that we are still not accustomed to seeing them as authority figures.

This could also explain why women are most sensitive to the behaviour of their co-workers. In female-only environments, the atmosphere tends to be mutually supportive and very much about helping each other out. Transfer that to a mixed environment, however, and behaviour that is stereotypically male can seem like a personal attack when it comes from another woman. Nonetheless, it is the strong, “alpha” personalities that are are noticed and promoted by bosses. If you get enough of them at the top of an organisation, that aggressive culture will percolate down through to the rest of the employees.

So, which is it? Are women simply too much of a nightmare to work for or with? Or are bearers of breasts simply misunderstood?

[Image by GColdironJr2003]


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