Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Most people have been the victim of workplace incivility at one point or another — from snarky comments from a coworker, rude interruptions or disrespect via email. Some workplaces can be a breeding ground for this kind of uncalled for behavior, but we often assume that it’s gendered given the power dynamics of men and women in the workplace.
Research from a large-scale study indicates that women tend to report experiencing more incivility at work than their male counterparts—and the perpetrators are quite often from other women. The theory: Women may be mistreating other women because they are more likely to view each other as competition for advancement opportunities in companies.
The research composed of three complementary studies involving rather large samples of between 400 and over 600 U.S. employees per study, across a variety of service operations and time periods. In each study, the researchers consistently found that women reported experiencing more incivility from other women than from their male coworkers. And examples of this incivility included being addressed in unprofessional terms, having derogatory comments directed toward them, being put down in a condescending way, and being ignored or excluded from professional camaraderie.
Of course, this isn’t good for anybody.
In response to incivility experiences, 48 % of employees intentionally decrease their work effort, 47% intentionally decrease their time at work and 38% internationally decrease the level of quality in their work. Plus, 80 % of employees studied indicated that they lost time at work due to merely ruminating about experienced incivility, with 66% indicating that their performance declined and 78 % indicating that they lowered their commitment to their organization. And due to cognitive distractions and time delays — the monetary cost of incivility can be upwards of $14,000 per employee. That means that there are financial and human well-being-related costs that come of exposure to incivility at work.
So how do you know if you’re perpetuating incivility toward other women in the workplace? Here are 10 signs that you could be the culprit.
1. You address other women in unprofessional terms.
This could be in the way you speak with them verbally or in the way you email them.
2. You make derogatory comments directed toward other women.
Of course, such comments could hurt them and hurt you if/when you lose your own job for it. Derogatory comments can take a much more serious toll on women’s well-being, too. The women studied reported lower job satisfaction, lower levels of vitality and increased intentions to quit their job when they were victims of incivility.
3. You put other women down in condescending ways.
Again, putting anyone down in condescending ways has no place in the workplace.
4. You ignore or exclude some women from professional camaraderie.
Keeping some women from attending coworker outings like happy hours isn’t good for anybody. It affects team bonding that, ultimately, affects productivity.
5. You expect other women to be warm and nurturing instead of dominant in the workplace.
Society places expectations on women to behave a certain way and, when they don’t, they’re criticized for it. Having expectations for other women is just as wrong as others who have expectations of you.
6. You compete with other women for advancement opportunities by putting them down.
It’s one thing to put your own best foot forward in competition, but it’s an entirely other thing to knock down your competition to get yourself ahead.
7. You assume that assertive women are ruthless.
“It may also be the case that these assertive behaviors are viewed as ruthless by other women,” the researchers write. “Given that women are more likely to compare themselves against each other, these behaviors may signal competition, eliciting incivility as a response.”
8. You place judgement on women for taking charge.
“Our research suggests that when women acted more assertively at work — expressing opinions in meetings, assigning people to tasks, and taking charge — they were even more likely to report receiving uncivil treatment from other women at work,” the researchers explain. “We suspect that it may be that women acting assertively contradicts the norms that women must be warm and nurturing rather than emphatic and dominant. This means that women who take charge at work may suffer backlash in the form of being interpersonally mistreated.”
9. You speak poorly of some women with other women in your workplace.
Gossiping has no place in the workplace, both because it’s inappropriate and because it distracts people from the work they should be focused on completing instead.
10. You dismiss other women’s professional opinions.
When you have no regard for other women’s professional opinions, you’re silencing them and holding up the glass ceiling that hinders all women.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She’s an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.