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NextGen Magazine


Researchers Find No Evidence of Endemic Women Tougher on Other Women in Workplace

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Dec 2, 2019
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Despite its existence as a longstanding trope, researchers writing in the Harvard Business Review said that, despite searching, they have found no evidence that women are tougher on other women in the workplace than men are on other men. The researchers, who recently published a book about women's conflicts in the workplace, said the perception exists not because of differing behavior but differing expectations. They point to other studies which indicate that women expect their female colleagues to be more understanding, more nurturing, more giving, and more forgiving than men. So while a woman might excuse a man for being brusque with them, they are less likely to do so with other women. But as women rise in their careers they increasingly find themselves in male-dominated spaces, where more stereotypically masculine behaviors and mannerisms become expected.

A study from last year describes this as "masculinity contest culture," which favors the ethos of "show no weakness," "strength and stamina," "put work force," and "dog eat dog." While not every organization follows such a culture to the extreme, other research has found that, generally, advancement in the workplace comes with adopting stereotypically masculine, not feminine, behavior. One study for example, quoted women in finance who said that "High performers are associated with masculine character traits" and "you had to act like a guy or you did not stand a chance." 

As they adapt to these norms, other women, particularly subordinates, increasingly perceive them as cold, selfish, or antagonistic for the same types of behaviors that get little comment from men. Thus is created the stereotype that women treat other women worse than they do men in the workplace. While there certainly are genuinely unpleasant women in the workplace, just like men, the researchers say it has less to do with the fact they are women and more to do with the fact they are jerks.