Get ready for us to take off the gloves and go at it with female rivalry in the workplace.
Female rivalry is something that has been identified as keeping and holding women back from success in the workplace – and from equity, which is another one of those messages to us that our lack of equality in the workplace is our own fault – because we are catty and mean.
A large meta-study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found the research on this topic is conflicted and concluded that the studies thus far on this issue have been inadequate to reach a real conclusion.
There appear to be two competing perspectives on this issue – one is that women compare, compete and undermine each other; while the other is that women support and cooperate with each other. What our hosts believe is that female rivalry as something in itself does not exist and rather when it exists it is the product of a biased and dysfunctional system.
Let’s start with bias. Women are expected to be communal and collaborative and supportive in the workplace. However, the workplace also expects us to compete for influence, promotions, and power. When woman act in opposite of the expectations around the “nice” behavior and engage in the competitive behavior, they are more harshly judged than their male counterparts. This is yet another situation where the same behavior is differently judged based on gender. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant write “[w]omen aren’t any meaner to women than men are to one another. Women are just expected to be nicer. We stereotype men as aggressive and women as kind. When women violate these stereotypes, we judge them harshly.”
What the research does say is the fewer opportunities there are for women, the more likely women are to report female rivalry. When there are fewer opportunities for women, there is often something wrong or dysfunctional about the system, which results in dysfunctional behavior from women. This is not to say queen bees do not exist – just like men – but it is to say women are more harshly judged for it and tit is more likely to occur in an environment when there are fewer opportunities for women.