Erica Pinsky



Bullying Dies When Respect Thrives

On May 10, 2009, which also happened to be Mothers Day this year, the NY Times ran a feature entitled “Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work.” This article appeared exactly four months after another article about women bullying other woman at work entitled “A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting” made headlines in the Times on January 10. The cruelty of women towards their own kind seems to make for good press.


Apparently, the Times readers are not the only ones interested in this topic. A veritable frenzy of tweets and re-tweets about the subject appeared on Twitter. Journalists and bloggers in both the US and Canada picked up on the May 10th story and ran subsequent features. I was interviewed for Beware the office bully – she’s baring her claws, which ran in the Globe and Mail on May 18.


From my perspective all of this publicity is great. It is crucial to raise awareness about the prevalence of workplace bullying and to understand how frequently women are targeted. While male bullies are gender neutral in their choice of targets, female bullies target other women more that 70% of the time. That means that women are targeted in over 75% of all incidences of workplace bullying.


My consulting work has unfortunately afforded me numerous opportunities to witness the devastation that often results when women bully other women at work. Both careers and personal lives can be ruined when bullying is allowed to continue unchecked.


Why do women do it? For the same reason that men do - because they can. Women can only bully others at work if the workplace culture condones, encourages, or turns a blind eye to disrespectful behaviour like bullying and harassment.


In my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit I feature 5 “employers of choice” who embrace respect as a core organizational value. I asked each of the individuals I spoke to from those companies whether or not they kept statistics on complaints of harassment and bullying. Inevitably I heard a variation of this response from Val Duffey, HR Director at KPMG Canada. “What people are accountable for is respectful, tolerant, diverse behaviour, and we measure that in the environment. They (bullying and harassment) don’t happen because they are at odds with the culture. It just wouldn’t be tolerated.”


Bullying is by definition disrespectful behaviour. Whether it is women targeting women, or men targeting women, or women targeting men, bottom line is that it is destructive and costly behaviour that does not belong in any workplace. Estimates are that workplace bullying is costing Canadian employers up to $20,000 per employee per year. Without a concerted effort to deal with workplace disrespect, that figure is likely to get much higher. As was noted in the Times article, recent studies show an increase in incidents of disrespectful behaviour at work, fuelled by the stress created by the uncertainty of the current economic climate.


If a workplace culture promotes an attitude of cutthroat competition for opportunities, that encourages divisiveness and mistrust among employees. If it focuses on bottom line at the expense of workplace relationships, that erodes collaboration and teamwork. If it fosters the traditional command and control managerial model, that facilitates workplace bullying. Culture shapes behaviour, and behaviour affects workplace relationships, performance and profitability.


Allowing bullying behaviour to continue unchecked might just be the kiss of death for many businesses already grappling with the effects of the recession. Now is the time to take proactive steps and create a respectful workplace culture where employees work together productively, unconstrained by the negativity and fear that workplace bullying breeds.


In a respectful workplace culture, all workplace practices and behaviours mirror the core value of respect. As a result, the behavioural norm for everyone, women and men alike, becomes one of respectful interactions, respectful communication, and respectful relationships. The result is a workplace community where being respectful is just “the way it is around here.” That is the kind of community most people, regardless of gender, want to be working in. Don’t let the cost of disrespect threaten your business.


"This easy to read book paints a clear and vivid picture of what the many facets of respect looks like in a thriving organization.  Through numerous ‘respectful practices’ we are not just told, but shown how to move toward a culture where respect is a living core value and success and profitability are the outcomes.  It is the “roadmap” to respect and path to profit."

Mike Desjardins
One of Business in Vancouver’s Top 40 Under 40