Your Next IT Manager Challenge: Girl Fight!

On Top Of Everything Else, IT Managers Need To Put A Stop To Girl Fighting At Work
On Top Of Everything Else, IT Managers Need To Put A Stop To Girl Fighting At Work

By this time in the 21st Century, I’m hoping that we’ve all got the diversity message: gender, race, age, sexual orientation (you too California) don’t matter when hiring people for jobs or when managing them. However, it turns out that there’s been a pink elephant lurking in the room that many of us (males) may have not noticed: girl fights!

I’m not talking about “I’ll see you out in the parking lot after work” types of fights. Rather, it turns out that there is a sneaky thing going on in the workplace. Women are actively treating each other badly. Hmm, where did this come from?

Peggy Klaus wrote a telling article in the New York Times a while back in which she pointed out the issue that has been there all along. Peggy is a leadership coach who has truly been there, done that. This has allowed her to spill the dirt on this dirty little secret…

So what are women doing to each other at work? This can be a long list. How about: limiting access to important committees and meetings, holding back on critical information, giving assignments and promotions to others, even blocking access to people who could be mentors or senior management.

Most of these bullying actions can be placed into one of four buckets of bad behaviors: verbal abuse, job sabotage, misuse of authority, or relationship destroying. Who knew that so much bad stuff was going on at work?

The folks over at the have done a study that showed that women bullies target their abuse towards women an amazing 70% of the time. On the other hand, men who are bullies seem to split their bullying equally between the sexes. This leads to the big question: why bully in the first place?

It turns out that there are a lot of theories for why women treat women badly in the workplace (no – this is not a Jerry Springer moment):

  1. Scarcity Breeds Bullies: since promotion spots are so few these days, women at upper levels are unwilling to help women at lower levels advance for fear that promotion spots will go to those that they help.
  2. Go Bootstrap Yourself: This is a familiar one – I had to get to where I am with no help from anyone, so you should have to do the same.
  3. Avoiding Favoritism: in today’s hype-PC work environments, women don’t want to create an appearance that they are favoring females over males.
  4. Hyper-emotionality: Everyone agrees that women are generally more sensitive to emotions than men are. Some also believe that women more easily take offense and can quickly start to hold a grudge. This means that they can start to overreact when they feel slighted by someone.

So what’s an IT Leader to do with all of this girl-fight knowledge? No matter if the IT Leader is male or female, the steps that need to be taken are the same. The first step is create a true “open door” policy so that when girl fighting goes on behind your back, the victims will feel free to come to you and report what is going on.

The second is that you need to call the bully on their actions. Depending on the IT Leader’s gender (like if you are a guy), you need to be careful here. However, mistreating any employee is unacceptable and the bully needs to be told that this will not be accepted.

The nice thing about bullies is that generally when they get caught, they back down and shape up quickly. Yet one more 21st Century task for an IT Leader to master!

Have you ever witnessed any girl fighting going on in your department? Was it a senior female employee bullying a more junior employee? Did anyone tell the bully to stop? What was the final result of the bully’s actions? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.