Jennifer Aniston said she’s been treated worse by women than men in Hollywood. Women tell Moneyish how they handled difficult female personalities on the job
Don’t be one of the mean girls.
While the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have inspired women to lift each other up by sharing their experiences of sexism and abuse, some women still report feeling oppressed by their fellow female colleagues and bosses. Take Jennifer Aniston, for example, who recently said she’d been treated worse by some women than men in Hollywood.
“I’ve never had anyone in a position of power make me feel uncomfortable and leverage that over me,” Aniston told InStyle magazine when asked about the #MeToo movement. “In my personal experience I’ve been treated worse verbally and energetically by some women in this industry.”
This “Queen Bee Syndrome,” referring to women who are often meaner to each other than men are to women, is all too familiar for many female professionals. A study by University of Arizona professor Allison Gabriel surveyed hundreds of people about their workplace interactions with men and women. And Gabriel found that women are more likely to feel ignored, interrupted, mocked or otherwise disrespected by other women at work, compared to reporting men treating them this way. While the findings are no reason to downplay bad behavior by men or gender discrimination, Gabriel stressed that rudeness among women is not something people should take lightly.
“We’re at this interesting crux where women are given a voice to speak up. We’re hearing about these egregious harassment issues, but women should (also) feel comfortable to use that platform to say, ‘We’re not all angels among ourselves,’” Gabriel told Moneyish. “Some people blow off incivility as, ‘Well, who cares? It’s not as bad as those other things.’ But these things are really impactful, and we need to be listening when people experience that.”
Take it from Rebecca Falborn, a senior producer at the Sound Lounge audio post-production company in New York City. At the advertising company where she used to work, Falborn was assigned to take over an important, multi-million-dollar account, an assignment she had little to no experience to handle. But she was punished when she asked for guidance from her female boss.
“I agreed to what was required of me — but asked for training and guidance so I could properly execute my job,” Falborn, 28, told Moneyish. “[My boss] instead spent her time talking negatively [about me] to my coworkers behind my back.”
So Falborn went to her human resources department and had a supervised meeting with her boss about her unprofessionalism. Her boss was demoted. But it wasn’t the first poor experience Falborn has had with a female supervisor.
“Some of the woman who have gotten to the top do not embrace the idea of ‘Let me help others ascend,’ because they’ve worked their tails off [to get where they are]. Truthfully, some of the worst bosses I’ve had have been women,” career coach Kathy Caprino said. “We don’t come out of the gate not wanting to help other women; it’s often perpetuated by a difficult situation, and it’s exacerbated by the challenges women have getting to higher leadership.”
Gender bias makes it harder for women to succeed — and, as a result, they put targets on one another. Women who were considered workplace bullies picked on other women 68% of the time, according to a study from the Workplace Bullying Institute . And studies show that when women have a preference, they would choose to have a male boss instead of a female one, describing female bosses as “catty” or “bitchy.”
But women helping other women helps everyone in the long run. Women-led companies make more money; a survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries found that having women at the C-suite level significantly increases net margins.
Having a trusted colleague helped make the workplace more tolerable for 28-year-old Courtney, who declined to give Moneyish her last name, when she started her job in human resources. “I’ve definitely had to deal with a clique of ‘mean girls’ at my current job when I came to work there from the competitor,” she said. A group of women in their 20s would text about her in a group chat during team meetings.
“They were blatantly obvious about it, and said to my face that they wouldn’t add me to their group chat,” Courtney said. “They would make everyone’s lives a living hell.” They would exclude her and other female employees from office happy hours and group events, she added.
Courtney confided in an older female colleague, who got her manager involved. As a result, the entire team had to sit through a diversity and harassment training. “It got better after that, but they still talk so much s—,” she said.
If you want to reason with a woman who is causing distress, it’s important to know what type of personality you’re going up against, says Caprino. “If you’ve got a female boss who’s a narcissist, you can’t challenge her directly. You’re never going to win,” she said. “You either have to get a higher-level sponsor who can help … go to HR, or get out from under this person if you can.”
And if it’s a colleague you’re going to have to work with often on a project, Caprino suggested talking to her directly about the issues between the two of you and how they can be worked out — no matter how much you want to avoid the awkward conversation.
“If you feel there’s a ray of hope with this individual and you want it to work, you can take them to lunch and have an emotionally balanced discussion,” she said. “You could say something like, ‘I’d really love us to have a stronger relationship. Is there anything I can do to make that happen?’”
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