Tag Archives: Sharon Eden

Mascara Mafia: To Debate Or Not?

This continues my series researching the bullying of women By women in the work place. See my 2 posts to date: Bitch or Bully: The Pink Elephant and The Lipstick Jungle: Female Saboteurs

The response
I originally set out to benchmark a client’s experience. If I had any preconceived notions, they were centred around bullying being a predominantly male activity and simply wanted to investigate corporate checks and balances, as well as any legal deterrents that dealt with this problem. I have to confess that I also secretly hoped to prove the findings of the New York Times wrong. Somewhat predictably, this sadly, was not to be.

My in-box started filling up almost immediately. Broadly speaking the responses fell into 3 categories and can be paraphrased as follows:

  •  Well done Dorothy for highlighting a difficult and sensitive issue which we need to acknowledge and tackle on many levels
  •  What on earth are you thinking Dorothy? Don’t we women have enough obstacles to progression without you dredging up this sort of stuff?
  • – Heart breaking case studies, including what sounded like psychotic abuse in some instances, accompanied by pleas for support

Difficult issue
Yes, the question of the bullying of women is sensitive. As more and more women pursue professional careers ( 60% of European graduates are now female) I actually don’t think that this is a topic we can pretend doesn’t exist. In fact I firmly believe that to do so is not only bad for women, it’s bad for business and organisational success. And it won’t go away on its own.

Annabel Kaye Managing Director or Irenicon Ltd UK tells me that victims of female bullying” leave and find another job without complaining at all. On average we find our ‘complainers’ turn out to be the sixth victim. Others come forward if our people are seen to be gaining ground. However many of our complainers settle quietly, signing ‘gagging clauses’ that mean they cannot testify if others come forward and the problem of bullying is buried once again beneath the surface … but the feeling is that it is healthier to move on rather than fight, which leaves systematic bullies and bullying institutions unchallenged and ready for their next crop of victims.

Are women more susceptible to bullying?
Sharon Eden contends “This is a far more complex situation than gender. Being susceptible to bullying also depends on psychological make-up and culture. People who are raised in families or from cultures where assertiveness is frowned on, and politeness and passivity valued, will be more at risk of being bullied in ‘Western type’ organisations.”

Anne Perschel told me “Boys in most cultures are raised with an expectation that they will be a physical aggressor or defender. This may be in the context of the hunt, an invasion or warding off intruders. Girls are not raised with such expectations. As children our play is in large part rehearsal for future roles. Girls do not rehearse for aggression to the degree that boys do. So in grown up life, when a woman is bullied, she doesn’t have the response repertoire easily available. Bullies feed on this. I’ve seen it. When a bully is on the attack, if the victim backs up in fear, the bully keeps aggressing. There have also been suggestions that testosterone is associated with more risk-taking and aggressive behaviors, so it is possible that biology plays a role as well.”.

Corporate Culture
However, it’s also about the organisational culture and what is perceived to be acceptable. My own experiences have been centred on men bullying men, but when that happened in all 3 cases the CEOs were themselves bullies and this modus operandi had become the corporate cultural norm.

Annabel reminds us that ” Often the perpetrators are oblivious to their behaviour talking about ‘strong leadership’, ‘tough decisions’ when the reality is they demonstrate the opposite. A strong organisation can tackle these issues successfully – but the fish rots from the head and often it is the board themselves that initiate behaviours that stimulate and encourage bullying. The ‘strong’ thrive on challenge – but the ‘weak’ crumble.

Double bind
All the commentators I consulted agreed without exception, that women in the workplace and in leadership positions, or en route, are in a double bind. As Anne suggests “Women are expected not to be aggressive. It’s okay and expected from men. If they lead with emotional and social intelligence, they don’t get as much credit or notice as do men. We expect women to be social, communal, nurturing and supportive of others. We don’t expect it so much from men, so when they behave accordingly, they are viewed as more extraordinary than a woman who exhibits these same behaviors

Skewed view
Is it just me or is there something wrong with this picture?

  • Women emulating assertive male behaviour for advancement in organisations are perceived negatively… and we talk about that.
  • Women not emulating male behaviour, don’t advance, are again perceived negatively … but we talk about that too.
  • Women advancing themselves via “mascara mafia” tactics are actually behaving negatively, very often go unchallenged and …we don’t talk about it very much at all!

Go figure!

Need to highlight

So no, I don’t think that highlighting an issue that negatively impacts women’s perceptions, performance and progression in the workplace should detract from any advances we would like to make in other areas. Neither should it draw attention away from the impact of any other barriers to progression.

In the meantime, women slug it out in sub – board room roles, leading to high job turnover, reduced engagement as well as health issues. Isn’t it understandable how lower level, lower paid, lower stress jobs become attractive options when women have to factor in family considerations?

Where are the men in all of this? Well , they are still sitting pretty at the top. In these positions they will continue to define corporate norms and values and their criteria for what makes a good manager and leader will prevail. In the meantime, women will remain confused and disenchanted, below the glass ceiling.

But as in most cases women have to help themselves and each other to create more secure and meaningful professional lives and business environments, even if it means confronting and finding solutions to eliminate unacceptable behaviour within our own ranks, and putting our own “house” in order. Just as parents who find their teenager has lost his/her way or companies realise they have a product that tanked, it is not the end of the world as we know it. The instances of extreme dysfunctional abuse aside , it’s a problem that can be resolved. There are almost always solutions and we women have to find them.

Why? Because no one else is going to do it for us.

What do you think?

The Lipstick Jungle: Female saboteurs

Bullying of women by women.

Bullying of women by women.

Bullying by Women in the Workplace – Part 2

The sabotaging of women BY women. As part of my series of bullying by women in the work place started in
Bitch or Bully: The Pink Elephant

I am exploring a number of complex and often confusingly over lapping issues. I have consulted a global network of HR professionals, lawyers, bullying specialists, psychologists as well as executive coaches and leaders.  My LinkedIn poll “Have you experienced bullying in the workplace by a woman?” is still running. Please take it if you haven’t already! Interestingly, although the numbers have been slowly climbing, the percentage analysis has remained consistent . 51% of those polled claim they have personally been bullied by a woman and 25% indicate that they have witnessed it.

These figures reflect all the statistics I have seen elsewhere, dashing my hopes once and for all of disproving their theories. It would seem that despite the increasing number of females in the workplace, many statistics suggest that the business environment has become potentially a more hostile place for many women.

How could this be?
Isabella Lenarduzzi , the founder of Blog Jump, a Belgian organisation for the advancement of women in the workplace makes this comment: “ Studies have shown that relationships can either be the best or the worst thing to happen to women at work: women have a greater capacity than men to affect one another’s professional performance–with better results for all if their interaction is good, and worse results if it is not.”

So what happens when interaction is not good?
Research also shows that women bully other women 2.5 times more frequently than they target men. The bullying weapons of choice in our arsenal tend to be sabotage and the abuse of authority, carried out either subtly or covertly behind closed doors. Women are apparently also more likely to elicit the support of other women, either tacitly or actively, isolating the victim with the creation of a “mascara mafia”, adding further to her distress and feelings of alienation. So our WMD are vocabulary, body language, voice tone, isolation, humiliation and unreasonable or inappropriate demands. You might remember the experiences of my client Jane. Her case it seems is classic text-book and could be taken straight from the syllabus for Bullying 101. The irony is therefore not only are we more likely to be bullied by a man, women are also out ranking men in the harassment of their own gender

Silent Epidemic
This type of bullying, known by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization as the “silent epidemic,” is four times more prevalent than illegal, discriminatory harassment.  Because this type of activity is not illegal, even when complaints are made, HR departments or employers are reluctant to pursue the perpetrator. Very often they know what is going on, but choose to ignore it. As female bullying is usually more covert and does not involve physically abusive, but still no less damaging, it is more difficult to audit and also to prove. Very often (as in Jane’s case) it is accompanied by unsupportive comments about a need to be less sensitive and more assertive. Annabel Kaye Managing Director of UK law firm Irenicon asserts that it can take up to six complaints about the same person to instigate an investigation.

So one bemused question has popped up throughout this research: Isn’t life tough enough for us you ask?

Why do we women sabotage each other?
Sharon Eden offers one explanation:
Sociological research has indicated it seems to be a biological imperative that women compete for the ‘best’ male so that their offspring are more likely to survive. This spills over into the executive suite where men still predominate and some psychologically unaware women wipe out the female ‘opposition’ for male attention

So at some primal sub-conscious level in our lipstick jungle, it would appear that we are clearly brushing down our business suits and sharpening our French manicures in order to compete for the attention of the best males, by annihilating any actual or perceived threats …anyway we can. As these men tend to be found at the top of the pyramid the “battle” intensifies. Research on bully behaviour and harassment at the Workplace Bullying Institute also suggests that regardless of gender, bullying is deeply rooted in insecurity resulting in a need for power and control, with the perpetrator seeking out a perceived weaker employee to dominate. This process actually makes the bully feel better about themselves.

Mary Pearson, who has been writing about bullying for a number of years elaborates “A workplace bully, whether male or female, ensures their intimidation tactics are witnessed. They gain control over a larger group by isolating and victimizing one or two people, more brutally than others. It’s a similar tactic to what a terrorist uses instilling fear in a community through picking a single victim”.

But can it also be that in our desire to get to the top the communication style of women is misunderstood? Can our attempts at being tough turn into bullying? Perhaps we are we caught between the gender stereotyping equivalent of a rock and a hard place. Damned if we do. Damned if we don’t

Isabella suggests ” Women in leadership positions find themselves with an identity dilemma: if they act like a typical male leader, they are perceived as ‘hard’ or ‘cold’, because their behaviour jars with that of the stereotypical woman

Although this goes someway to explaining some aspects of the problem, the “hard ” approach of mimicking male behaviour, it doesn’t cover the type of pernicious and inexplicable treatment that Jane and so many others experience. As Annabel Kayesuggested in my last post, many victims are so ground down, they simply resign.

So while we women bleat endlessly about glass ceilings, timidity at the negotiating table, and under representation in a corporate world, there seems to be very strong indications that in many cases we are actually our own worst enemies. The concentration of females in the corporate population hovers below board level. While there are obviously other legitimate factors preventing advancement, it would seem that part of this blockage is that many women directly sabotage their female colleagues or subordinates and therefore ultimately themselves.

At some point we have to take responsibility for this. The question is how.

What do you think?

Don’t be afraid of “NO”

" No" is your friend. It creates an opportunity to counter.

There was an amazing, interesting  and almost global response to my last post “Let’s go girls…. negotiate”. All sorts of questions and issues were raised around gender differences  related to salary negotiation. Many complex topics were covered  connecting  cultural and historical barriers that prevent women stepping up to self advocate. But I’m not even going to attempt to address those wider topics here and just want to concentrate on the immediate and practical. I’m  also just going to focus on negotiating for a new job  and will  deal with existing situations  later,  although the principles are  still broadly the same .

So let’s deal with what can anyone  of us do.. NOW.

Women are relationship builders
One  of the first  points  raised was that women are  relationships builders and as a consequence we are not good at “winning ” individual encounters and are therefore disadvantaged from the get go.  So OK… let’s look at this in real terms.

Yes,  we are excellent relationship builders – but  all good  functional relationships I believe  are not about winning. In fact if anyone feels like a “loser”   in a deal  ( male or female) , my feeling is that  connection is predicated to be dysfunctional long-term.  Negotiation  is  ultimately about building a relationship. It is constructive communication between two parties to find a mutually satisfactory outcome. Women excel at win/win solutions. Do male managers really see all negotiations as adversarial? Wise and effective ones surely don’t. I have actually tried to find some management theorists who might support this line of thinking- but couldn’t locate any, except perhaps when discussing situations impacting international security- which we’re clearly not. And even in those cases, as we have historically seen, punitive negotiations don’t always work then either.

Many women  also wrote to me and to paraphrase said   ” … You don’t understand ….negotiating a salary is different to other  types of negotiations.”

NO it isn’t.

Be confident

This is about confidence.  Without confidence we will always find a way to lose, so it is important is to normalise and neutralise  the negotiation process in our own minds and to understand that  as women, we all do it, all the time without a second thought.  We just don’t even notice. Once we realise what an integral part negotiation actually plays in our daily lives, half the problem has been overcome.

 Test yourself:

1. The TV repairman says “ Can’t come for 3 weeks”

2. You have a 4 figure quote from a supplier for a job you feel pretty sure should cost 3 figures

3.  Your 15-year-old wants a party

So what do you do? Do you roll over and  wait for 3 weeks to get your TV fixed  and say to your contractor  “ sure  no problem I’ll pay over the odds for that job?” or leave town and  turn your house over  to your teen for an all night rave?  No. Of course not.

You negotiate.

You research the market, evaluate what you need doing, decide what you can comfortably afford to accept. If it doesn’t work you let it go or change.

So salary negotiation isn’t different.

By becoming a candidate you have already made that  psychological  commitment  to change and have taken that leap into the unknown. You have imperceptibly started the negotiation process.   You have researched the company,  identified your skills, know your value in the sector and must have marketed them well , because  here they are now wanting to make you an offer. You are in a good place! If the hiring company lose you,  they may have to start the process from scratch or fall back on candidate number two. That is an additional cost,  not just in terms of  search fees,  but also in terms of elapsed time before a new hire is effective , which equals lost revenue. They will have done their homework and will know what the salary range for your skill set is on the market.  Generally everyone  should  be looking for successful outcome. Most companies settle at least 10-15%  above the initial offer.

The pre-question

When I started selling,  my boss at the time, a guy called Mike Lowe, the best sales person I have ever met and a formative personality in my career and personal development, gave me a  simple  nerve conquering mantra before I embarked on any project. The pre-question.”What is the worst thing that can happen?”

Mike  also tried desperately hard  to teach me to ski where injury, pain and  death  featured in my option choices ( not necessarily in that order.)  But these  downsides, generally speaking, don’t tend to happen around a negotiating table discussing anything legal.

In any ordinary negotiation process, the worst  case scenario is  usually and I always  unhapppily thought,  pre “Mike” , was a firm ” no” .  But Mike also taught me that “no” is my friend and how to use it .

Make “no” your friend

So even within this negative messagethere is a  hidden bonus which can open up a dialogue and lead you to make informed decisions. So instead of fearing “no” – it’s now a word you feel extremely comfortable with. Take a lesson from your own kids. If you say no to a pre-schooler – what do they say ? Exactly.  ” Why? ”

Why” is now your other new door-opening  buddy.

It hangs around with “no”. It allows you to take each objection and calmly overcome them with your elevator sound bites, which incorporate all your CARS,  USPs and overall added value. So you love “NO.” It can work for you! The evolved adult  you  have become,  may not stamp her foot  like a five-year old  and petulantly pout “why”, but you will counter with something  more grown-up, neutral and reasonable like “What makes you say that?”

Mike  taught me to de-emotionalise  “no” and view it as a vital part of the process. It’s wasn’t about me. “No” doesn’t mean that my value or self-worth are  on the line and reduced in any way, or I’m some sort of mini failure.  It’s only about the transaction.

Research & preparation

But first you have to deal with  negative thinking   and examine the facts and take steps to avoid  being over come by fear ( False Expectations Appearing Real.) So research and preparation are key. Understand the economic viability of the company and know your own market value.


Mike also taught me about the use of silence. It’s the last member of the  “no / why” trinity. We women are not great at silence. But there are times when the prudent use of silence can be as effective as delivering a great elevator speech. Used wisely it is a great negotiating technique. Deliver your pitch …. and wait….and wait…. and wait….

 Fall back position

It maybe that you will not reach your  first goal  – but  you should always have a secondary goal  in mind  before entering any negotiation.  In the words of Karl Albecht  “Start out with an ideal and end up with a deal.”   If anyone in a negotiation situation that feels  their back is against a wall, trouble and resentment  are going to figure largely in their futures.

But if a compromise still  isn’t possible then  that leaves one  option – seriously consider voting with your feet.

Is it this  final step, which we as women fear most? That primal,  risk taking side to our personalities that keeps us in the metaphoric  “cave”  and prevents us taking that leap into the unknown which separates us from the guys?

The irony  is  of course ,  that  it is the ability and willingness to walk away which can be the single most powerful negotiating tool in any deal.

What do you think?

Special thanks to Wally Bock,    Ava Diamond, Colin Lewis, Rebel Brown , Susan Mazza,  Tim Douglas , Ellen Brown  Anne Perschel    Susan Joyce , Sharon Eden for stimulating contributions!