If “the future is female,” then it’s a future where women hold some serious grudges against each other. According to a new study, the sisterhood isn’t as pleasant as the feminists frame it, and working women may be just as annoyed with female co-workers as they are with their male counterparts.
“Studies show women report more incivility experiences overall than men, but we wanted to find out who was targeting women with rude remarks,” says Allison Gabriel, assistant professor of management and organizations in the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.
Probing three different studies, Gabriel and her team looked into how men and women reported their experiences at work, specifically on questions about who made the most condescending or derogatory remarks on top of passive-aggressive behavior such as ignoring them in a meeting or addressing them unprofessionally. It turns out women co-workers didn’t fare so well.
“Across the three studies, we found consistent evidence that women reported higher levels of incivility from other women than their male counterparts,” Gabriel says. “In other words, women are ruder to each other than they are to men, or than men are to women.
“This isn’t to say men were off the hook or they weren’t engaging in these behaviors,” she notes. “But when we compared the average levels of incivility reported, female-instigated incivility was reported more often than male-instigated incivility by women in our three studies.”
The study also showed that more assertive and dominant women were the most targeted by their female co-workers. Male counterparts fared best when they were described as being both assertive yet genial.
“Companies should be asking, ‘What kinds of interventions can be put in place to really shift the narrative and reframe it?’” Gabriel says.
“Making workplace interactions more positive and supportive for employees can go a long way toward creating a more positive, healthier environment that helps sustain the company in the long run,” she says. “Organizations should make sure they also send signals that the ideas and opinions of all employees are valued, and that supporting others is crucial for business success—that is, acting assertively should not be viewed negatively, but as a positive way for employees to voice concerns and speak up.”
The fullness of Gabriel’s findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.