Part of the reason I blog is so I can ruminate, reflect, research and generally over-think what’s going on in my life and in my head. I have been trying to figure out my next steps with my minor office politics situation because I really don’t want a political situation. Been there, done that and hate it.
Years ago I had listened to a woman speaker talking about how women treat other women in the workplace. She was talking about how less senior/low-ranked women will oftentimes try to level things with a more senior woman. That they subconsciously do not accept the authority or hierarchical status of the senior woman.
If I am not explaining this well, let me give you a personal example. My former housekeeper. I would come home from work and if she was still working, she would tell me what work I needed to do in my home. She would comment on my leisure if I was sitting on the patio with my feet up while she wrapped up her work. She was just trying to keep both us working women equal even though our relationship was hierarchical. My daughter faces this all the time in the medical world as a surgeon.
The Atlantic had an article that hit upon what I had experienced last week:
Even levelheaded, feminist women can exhibit elements of queen-bee behavior at times, and they don’t have to be in senior positions. The biggest issue I heard about is what’s known as “competitive threat,” which is when a woman fears that a female newcomer will outshine her. She might try to undermine her rival preemptively—as happened to one woman I interviewed, whose work friend spread rumors that she was promiscuous and unqualified. Or she might slam her rival with demeaning comments, as has happened to seven in 10 respondents to a 2016 survey of women working in the tech industry. “I had two female colleagues who suggested I try to look ‘less pretty’ to be taken more seriously,” a respondent wrote. “One suggested a breast reduction.”
I have been very lucky that although my admin sees me as a competitive threat, she has not spread ugly rumors about me….that I know about. Then the article used an interesting term “system justification”
Rudman found that some women’s disparagement of other women can be explained by what’s called “system justification,” a psychological concept in which long-oppressed groups, struggling to make sense of an unfair world, internalize negative stereotypes. Women simply don’t have the same status in American life that men do. So when people think, Who do I want to work with?, they subconsciously leap to the default, the historically revered—the man. Some women look around, see few women running things, and assume that there must be something wrong with women themselves.
But it was another article on the Workology website that really spelled out what I was looking for:
Women are wired for close friendship in which two people are equals and share intimate secrets. Businesses tend to be hierarchical, and workplace relationships are what Pat Heim calls “friendly.” Managers demonstrate “executive distance” in their relationships with subordinates. This kind of relationship between a “lower level” and “higher level” woman can disappoint (perhaps unconscious) expectations for close relationships. A woman may feel rejected by the senior woman. She may take it personally and dislike the senior woman.
What is interesting with the quote above is that I strive to remember this with my boss. We are chatty in a social way, but I never forget that she is my boss. I understand that our relationship is completely work-based and will never have a social component. My boss, probably through the School of Hard Knocks, does not socialize with coworkers. She is my boss and I keep to our hierarchical relationship.
Fortunately the article didn’t leave me hanging and went on to provide a viable solution with my admin situation:
Transparency can also help resolve some of these issues. If you recognize passive-aggressive behavior (or perceive it), confronting the specific behavior before it gets worse can be helpful. One way I’ve found to successfully handle this without conflict is to rely on your sense of humor and understand your own work style. For example, you can say to your boss or coworker, “I’m not sensitive to criticism…in fact, I welcome and appreciate it. If I don’t hear from you, I assume I’m doing a fantastic job!”
For the drama queen in the office, ignoring the behavior can often exacerbate it. I’ve seen successful women leaders nip this in the bud by getting all parties in one room and putting all cards on the table. Backstabbing can’t survive in an open arena, so talking negatively about each other behind the other’s back is nearly impossible (at least as a tactic) in an open, collaborative work environment.
I may end up sharing the Workology article with my boss. I haven’t decided yet. But this thing has now been identified and I better understand what is going on. Now let’s see if the admin has enough self-realization to look in the mirror. In the meantime, just look for me on the high road…