“Working with Mean Girls: identifying & protecting yourself from workplace nastiness “ Meredith Fuller, February 1st 2012 PENGUIN
Offering practical advice and using fascinating Australian case studies, psychologist Meredith Fuller shows you how to recognise and manage difficult women at work.
Don’t let mean girls spoil your career or ruin your health – learn how to protect yourself!
For further information regarding interviews, sales, events please contact Meredith’s publicist Chantelle Sturt, PENGUIN GROUP (Australia) on 03 9811 2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org
WORKING WITH MEAN GIRLS additional stories about Bitches Behaving badly in the workplace
“Bitches have a way of picking your brains. They don’t say thankyou, they commodify what you give them without acknowledgement. When I was younger, I was unaware that bitches at work were stealing my intellectual property – I thought we were just chatting! One young woman was green slime, who passed off my ideas as her own to the CEO; taking whatever she wanted to advance her career, while I was busy working hard to hold the office together during a restructure. She got promoted. These days I will call bitches on it, or decide to shrug them off, or make the decision to stay on a committee because I WANT to. It took many years plus therapy to learn all this.” Elwin, 60’s.
Older women ARE smart, perceptive, and keen to learn new skills – while they also offer wisdom and lived experience. Older women are extraordinary assets and can provide tremendous followership and support to young leaders.
What is exciting in the workplace is the capacity for both the much older and much younger women to match each other with their feistiness, debate, humour, adventurous experimentation, and disinclination to take anything too seriously.
A Gen X journalist was confronted by a snide and undermining deputy editor. In the end, she had to leave.
“I had to pass on my completed files to this vindictive woman. She would ‘hide’ them somewhere so that it seemed that I hadn’t done my work. The senior editor would bellow at me, and I would bleat ‘But I DID do them! I DID pass them on!’ Eventually the deputy would mutter, ‘oh yes…I forgot. Now, where did they get to…?’ I dreaded the train trip into work each day, wondering what she would do to me.
Stephanie came across some bitches in the television industry. “The undercurrents reminded me of high school, where I had been targeted. While there were wonderful women who freely supported newcomers, there were others who stamped on you to get ahead. One direct report, who never bothered to meet me in person, would email me daily “WHERE is the story!!” in capital letters at 10am – with no Dear Stephanie and no name – when my story wasn’t due till the close of business that day.
An erosion of manners. She never acknowledged any work that I sent through – I could die wondering if it arrived ok. She wouldn’t bother hitting ‘read’ or ‘received’ which would have taken a second. Technology and the fast pace of our lives has meant a loss of etiquette and basic manners. I never received any feedback or thanks – let alone performance reviews – I had to learn to trust my judgement that I had done a good job.
When I work with good managers, I am so delighted to obtain feedback and I value it enormously.”
Every young woman I spoke with mentioned a Bus story. You inadvertently sit on a Bitch’s seat in the bus and suddenly the gang chastises you, pulls you off the seat, and harasses you. Innocently taking the ‘wrong’ seat when you get on a bus can be the catalyst for years of being ignored and ostracized at school. You start work, and commit another innocent faux pas, and the game continues.
Christine worked in child care – a female dominated industry. “One staff member left a ‘present’ for me – she smeared blue powder paint and oil all over my windscreen. Luckily it didn’t rain on my way home, or I wouldn’t still be here. Some women can pretend to be your friend, then they turn on you and stick the knife in. You don’t understand why and it takes you by surprise; they can be poison in the workplace, and can infect other women with their toxicity.”
Denise turned up at work with a new haircut. “My bitchy co worker looked me up and down, then said, lingeringly ‘oh…and are you, er, happy with your new, er…hair style?’ Or she’d start a conversation with, ‘oh, I really hate to have to tell you this, but…’ then launch into nastiness. I finally realised what she was up to, so I would respond with, ‘then don’t tell me’ and walk off quickly.”
Another woman was stunned when her admin assistant wasn’t happy about typing up client data bases.
“When I enquired how she was going, she said ‘I refuse to do this shit.’ Whatever I delegated wasn’t good enough, and it became a battle to get the work done. One day she was late back from lunch by two hours. I called on her mobile, and she said that her car had broken down. I asked when she would be back, and she yelled ‘when I want to get there!’ She decided that she would go shopping while waiting for the RACV. I was concerned and suggested she needed to return to the office as soon as possible. Could she get a bus or tram? You see, this happened every week. She would disappear for four or five hours and blame everyone else but herself. The other days of the week she tried to have her lunch break at 4pm, so she could go to the gym. I explained we needed her until 5pm, and she had to take a lunch break at lunchtime when someone else could mind the phones. She kept calling me a bitch because I prevented her from exercising. She also handled the petty cash and I queried why she was taking money to pay for her coffees. She insisted that her old boss let her do it, so I was a bitch for raising it. “
Why DO we keep secret the bitchy, destabilising things that some women can do in the workplace? The subtle and overt nasty things that Mean Girls do to women have far reaching effects. There are career implications for women caught in Mean Girls’ orbits in addition to the traditional dismissive tactics from MEN, i.e. – Sticky Floors (women can’t move up), Slimy Walls (women can’t move laterally) and Glass Ceilings (women are subjected to paralysis by poison)
Having other women sink the boot in can contribute to the erosion of self esteem, grief, and perpetual confusion.
Mean Girls can be found in all work arenas:
corporate hierarchies (eg Banks)
partnership professions (eg Law)
professional member associations
universities and education
Many women struggle with demanding careers and complex lifestyles in our changing workworld. Organisational shapes and job descriptions are altering; this shapeshifting brings uncertainty and anxiety. Relentless restructuring, mergers, retrenchments, and closures offer both excitement and terror, potential abuse and accolades, collegial and adversarial relationships. The rapidity of change may also mean that a colleague or subordinate is elevated to our Direct Report, friends we sponsor into the company may cause resentment, and HR practices may not respond to our grievances.
Some women may be subjected to unethical behaviour, feral office politics, or exhaustion from unreasonable workloads, or the anxiety of remaining vigilant around a volatile manager.
Stressed women may suffer interpersonal and intrapersonal difficulties in silence.
As ‘good girl’ loyal professional women, I suspect that we are heartily sick of trotting out our politically correct platitudes about all of our wonderful co-workers and marvellous managers while privately enraged about the few who are manipulative, competitive, angry, or mean. Perhaps we are jaded, cynical, or frightened – but we may remain silent because if we dared to open up about what is really going on, we expect we’d become dogmeat.
21st century survival and mastery is reliant on enlivening and enriching relationships. We can’t allow Mean Girls to attempt to destroy other women. It is time to voice the suffering and call the process.
I have identified 8 Types.
One I have called, The Narcissist.
Narcissism is on the rise. What is it? ‘an exaggerated sense of self importance, a tendency to overvalue one’s own accomplishments, an exhibitionistic need for attention and admiration, a preoccupation with fantasies of success, wealth, power, esteem or ideal love, an inappropriate emotional reaction to criticism‘ PENGUIN DICTIONARY OF PSYCHOLOGY 1995
Their egocentricity masks their ancient pre-verbal emptiness and a terror of annihilation. Deep down, they may have a fear that they are not really wanted and may be abandoned at any minute.
- Ignores you
- Fails to pass on correct information
- Pretends you do not exist
- Refuses to speak
Jill attended staff meetings with an Excluder who blocked her line of vision. Using her body as a shield, Excluder ensured that Jill became invisible in the meeting. Jill didn’t feel confident enough to ask the Excluder to push her chair back or move so that she could see the others around the table – she worried that she would sound churlish. Excluder bowled past Jill in the corridor, or looked the other way if Jill tried to say hello.
- Suspicious, checking up, micromanaging
- Always disappointed with and disapproving of your work
- She is the only reliable one and you are incompetent
Meg started a new nursing role in a small unit. By Day Two she hadn’t yet mastered their new computer system. Her manager, who had been on the interviewing panel, was annoyed and irritated that she hadn’t mastered it immediately.
“Well, you know you weren’t the first on the short list!” she said cruelly.
- Effusive and smarmy one minute, then sinks the boot in when you are off guard
- Tries to buy you with gifts or gossip
Collenemies – competing against colleagues while pretending they care – are encouraged when the culture is secretive and punitive.
- tells lie after lie after lie
- no conscience
- complains, yells, dresses down staff
Screamer strides out, poking the report in her hand.
“What’s this mess? I don’t want it done like that! How many times do I have to tell you!”
Tightly wound, she barks instructions to the spineless staff who cringe. Volatile, demanding, and vicious, she seems about to erupt at any moment. She never relaxes, but is poised to find fault.
She shoulders responsibility for the entire organisation, and considers that no one else is competent.
TIP: Seek out a good manager.
Jenny Stephens, a general manager and mentor to many, has a commitment to providing excellent communication and getting the best from staff.
“Leaders must be visible and staff need a connection to them. Know what people need in times of change in order to help them flourish, not sink.
I am a feminist – many women have rejected the male paradigms of how things work; the boys club culture can be destructive to individual integrity. While their decisions may be for the corporate good, they are more likely to take the easy path to elevation, not the patient path to lead people.
I always seek out a group of women for friendship, support, and allegiance. Always ask, “How can we work best together and complement each other?” She sorts out emergent problems. “I am feeling X at the moment. Is there a way we could work together? What do we need?”
It is a waste of time to have women caught up in bitching. She wonders why organisations would allow this behaviour.
“If people are unhappy they don’t work their best, and this erodes organisational success. I have a sense of self, so I won’t stay if a workplace is vile and cannot be changed – don’t suffer if you have the capacity to make a choice!”
“If we are talking about underperformance, I see that as my job as manager to fix. I ask, Why are you here? How can you get more out of your job? Let’s do it!”
She stresses that it is all about managing performance, and yes, it is time consuming.
“You need to act immediately and sort things, otherwise the perception of your leadership suffers. I enable people to have the best shot at doing the best they can. I know they will be happier. I have zero tolerance for chinese whispers – if I find out that a direct report is doing it, I raise it immediately. I call it. You do not complain and undermine from within – it affects everyone.”
Great leaders have a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Their ambition is for the organisation – the people – not for themselves.
View our short dvd to accompany my book 8 MEan Girl Types
Additional resources are available.
- Love @ Work series 2006 “Doing Beloved Work: Finding Truth in your Career” Meredith Fuller WILEY and Australian Institute of Management, available as ebook or minibook
Psychological Type (MBTI) Workspaces series
- Do all roads lead to AusAPT
- Workspaces 1 – ENTJs
- Workspaces 2 – INTPs
- Workspaces 3 – ENTPs
- Workspaces 4 – INTJs
- Workspaces 5 – INFJs
- Workspaces 6 – ENFJs
- Workspaces 7 – INFPS
- Workspaces 8 – ENFPs
- Workspaces 9 – NFs and NTs revisited
- Workspaces 10 – ISTJs
- Workspaces 11 – ISTPs
Sunday Herald-Sun, Daily Telegraph, New Idea
1. Stalk, Stalking, Stalked .
2. Ray Mooney’s Class of 2001: collection of short plays