A while back I wrote a post, right here on this blog, about the unfortunate way that confident women are often perceived in the workplace. As I’ve witnessed in my own career and as too many studies have suggested, they are viewed as aggressive, overbearing, and bitchy.
But recently I’ve come in contact with too many women who actually are bitchy to other women they work with. As I was dealing with one of them I started to wonder if there was something I was doing to cause her rudeness and bitchiness in communicating with me. I began to load my emails with all sorts of niceties and infused my phone conversations with her with an extra dose of politeness; her behavior didn’t change one bit. Then I met two other women who have dealt with her in the past and was relieved — how sad is that? — to learn that it was nothing personal towards me.
This certainly isn’t the first time this has happened. I spent the last ten years of my career working in extremely male-dominated environments and too many women I encountered there were just plain horrible. Bitchy, unwilling to network and be supportive, and extremely competitive. I had two older women, whom I’d met through networking, tell me quite plainly that they had a tough time getting to where they did and they weren’t about to make it easy for me by helping me. Nice, right?
I get that women from generations ahead of me had an extremely difficult time getting to positions of leadership and success. But it seems completely backwards that their reaction would be to NOT make it easier for younger women to follow in their footsteps. They’ve already made it, so what do they have to lose by helping others? All the great mentors I’ve had in my career have been men and I see older successful men network with, support, and help younger men all the time.
In a great article she wrote here on Work It, Mom!, Dr. Stacey Raidin, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and studies women’s leadership (which basically means she knows a lot more than I can think up in this area), suggests a few reasons for why women don’t support each other and network as well as men seem to. One of them stood out to me in particular: Because so few of us are in leadership positions, we operate from a position of scarcity — if I help another woman she might eventually compete with me for my position. This makes sense but it doesn’t make it right. If we don’t network better and support each other more we’ll be where we are today, with very few women leaders, fifty years from now.
I get really upset about this topic, if you haven’t noticed. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with men calling us bitchy when we’re being strong and assertive at work.
Why do we find it necessary to actually be bitchy to each other?