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When women work with other women, workplace conflicts are widespread, if not unavoidable. Nevertheless, such a narrative only tells half the story.
Adela started working for a huge consumer goods firm in London when she was 23. Her employees, including her managers, were predominantly female. However, during her first week at her new job, one of the team’s few men approached her desk and dropped a book. “He stated it was my command to work here,” she says.
The book was Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel The Devil Wears Prada, about a young lady who suffers psychological and emotional abuse from her female fashion-magazine editor boss.
Adela, who wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons, described the company’s work environment as “toxic,” with a culture of “secrecy.” In addition, she believes that her female managers were “image-obsessed” and opposed to fresh ideas or perspectives.
She claims that because of this, juniors were afraid to speak up, and everyone appeared defensive. As a result, she resigned after six months and resolved never to work in a team of exclusive women again – and to be exceedingly wary about working for another woman due to the susceptibility to workplace conflicts.
Adela’s workplace conflicts experience may be more extreme than that of other women who have worked with a female boss, but it is not uncommon.
In discussions on what helps women succeed in the workplace, experts usually stress the importance of female role models. However, while there is much evidence that female mentorship benefits women, there is also plenty of anecdotal evidence that having a female boss reduces a woman’s chances of being happy, successful, and supported at work. And it is the latter story that has captured the public’s attention.
There is no compelling evidence that senior women are less beneficial to junior women – or more destructive to junior men – than senior men are too junior men. But, many women, including Adela, have said that workplace conflicts with women have made their lives at work miserable, even forcing them to resign.
Nonetheless, it is feasible that women should engage in workplace conflicts more; however, confrontations between female employees and their female bosses typically garner the majority of workplace attention for a variety of reasons. For example, in the 1970s, academics coined the term “queen bee syndrome,” which asserts that high-ranking female employees contending for a rare seat at the table creates a hostile environment for female subordinates.
Yet, research has revealed that the high notoriety of these woman-on-woman fights is due to more than just individual women being harsh, territorial, or ‘catty,’ as usually portrayed. Instead, they are manifestations of gendered norms that continue to influence the workplace and may inhibit other women from reaching their full professional potential.
Affirmative and competitive leaders
There are many long-held gender stereotypes in society. Academics, for example, believe that men should be forceful, competitive, and ambitious, whereas women should be nurturing, loving, and compassionate. These preconceptions, which are continually reinforced throughout society, also manifest themselves in managerial approaches.
According to experts, both genders must feel that success is tied to male characteristics in order to succeed in the work. Despite changes in gender roles, men and women continue to believe that men should dominate, women should be subordinate, men should lead, and women should follow.
Workplace conflicts are “dual bound”
As a result of these beliefs, Manzi says that when some women acquire leadership positions, they adopt more male-ascribed attributes. Some women may have previously developed a more masculine persona to excel in their employment.
As a result, they may “detach more from women to establish themselves as leaders,” Manzi adds.
According to Ceynowa, male attributes that encourage leadership ideals make it more acceptable for men to be in workplace conflicts. When women stand their ground and are viewed as aggressive, it is extremely striking, noticeable, and memorable since they are not expected to engage in workplace conflicts based on their gender roles.
Leah Sheppard and Karl Aquino, two academics, described a 2012 study in which participants read a scenario imitating a confrontation between two managers. They discovered that participants viewed the disagreement as more problematic when both supervisors were women than when one or both bosses were men.
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According to them, such impressions may lead to self-fulfilling prophecies among women, who are less likely to seek an acceptable resolution if they foresee long-term troubles following a workplace conflicts.
Conflicts can’t be solved if they aren’t talked about and worked on. Trying to talk through disagreements online can lead to misunderstandings and more conflict, so try to set up a time to meet and talk, either virtually or in person.
To keep everyone on the same page and working toward the same goal, you need to find a solution that everyone can agree on. Each person should know what is expected of them and what steps they can take to move the situation toward a solution.