Exclusion as a form of bullying

This is the post excerpt.


I want to talk to you about a different type of bullying. We all know by now how damaging bullying can be, and how shockingly prevalent it is in both our schools and our workplaces.

However, the more overt forms of bullying, the punching, kicking, screaming, abuse type, can be easily identified and in many cases actioned. The more subtle, insidious kind, however, is that of exclusion.

This is the form of bullying that I have encountered almost daily for the past 2 years since I came out at work.

While I can count on one hand the number of times I have faced overt discrimination or bullying, I have diaries full of examples of the latter.

This is a subject that has been studied significantly. I want to include these now to detail the research that has gone into this piece, and to add substance to my argument.

From the Sydney Morning Herald

“Ostracism: worse than workplace bullying”

 “Interestingly, the researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business[1] also found many employees think ostracism is “more socially acceptable, less psychologically harmful, and less likely to be prohibited in their organisation,” than harassment.[2]

This is the first issue. Political Correctness, while vital in preventing many forms of discrimination and hate, has also left a lot of people, who consider themselves reasonable, feeling muted, and not able to speak their minds on a variety of subjects. Of course, we know that anything people feel uncomfortable saying really shouldn’t probably be said, we end up with this scenario.

People feel ‘forced’ to accept someone who is different, and they know HR or the HRC will drop a ton of bricks on them if they speak out, so instead they go full passive aggressive, and freeze the person out altogether, probably in the hope they will get sick of it and walk away.

This recently cost a transgender woman her life[3]

Multiple sources-

Just days before she killed herself, she wrote to the school principal, “I feel that I am being subtly bullied by all CHAs and by the lack of support from administration and it’s taking a toll on my health.”[4]

As stated above, the bullying was not direct, in-your-face hate speech or aggression, which are career limiters. The absence of this sort of behaviour, however, does not mean that bullying is not occurring, it is simply being obscured by a thin veneer of what could best be described as “polite indifference”

And research tends to agree that this can often be the worst form of bullying.

“Is exclusion the worst form of bullying?”

“We’ve been taught that ignoring someone is socially preferable – if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” study co-author Professor Sandra Robinson explained in a Sauder press release. “But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they’re not worthy of any attention at all.”[5]

This is the type of bullying that is most common in modern workplaces. It can be extremely subtle, but incredibly powerful.

Some examples-

  • Being left out of team meetings, work meetings
  • Being left out of social events and birthdays, etc
  • Being ignored in a meeting or having your ideas dismissed
  • Being denied role clarity and definition

Bizarrely, it can even lead to the employee not being managed at all.

“Who’s being left out on your team?”

  “Feeling left out or ignored at work can have tremendously negative effects on workers’ well-being“[6]

Managers may not even realize they are doing it. However, with a person considered of low social capital due to minority status, there is a pervasive perception that the individual will be likely to make noise to HR if they are ‘bothered’, so even negative work performance is left unaddressed, which cripples the employee’s career development, as well as the effectiveness of the work unit itself, with ongoing negative effects for the end customers.

Creating a workplace where employees feel included is directly connected to worker retention and growth, says Jeanine Prime, leader of the Catalyst Research Center for Advancing Leader Effectiveness. Yet many corporate diversity programs focus more on creating a diverse workforce, and too little on the harder job of fostering inclusion”

The manager bends over backwards to be ‘inclusive’, but is too terrified to actually deal with the person like a human being. This may seem to them, and they might genuinely believe this, that they are being compassionate and empathetic, but it actually isn’t. It is toxic and damaging to the company, to the customer, to the employee and even to the manager themselves.

The effects of this on long term mental health and self-esteem are tremendously damaging. This can become a double edged sword; the person is excluded, develops mental health issues, and because they have mental health issues, are further excluded in a society where open discussion of these issues remains taboo.

“Social Exclusion and Mental Health”

 “While the illness is bad enough, what hurts more is the watching the damage to her self belief, her confidence, her self-esteem after an episode. Once in recovery Pauline will seek constant reassurance about so many little things. “Did I say something wrong? Am I acting a bit strange? Are people looking at me? Do they know I have a mental illness? Are they judging me?”[7]

This self-doubt can be crippling. It creates anxiety  and makes it difficult for her to go outside, hard to be around people. Welcome to the social exclusion and mental health merry-go-round.”

How this works- an otherwise happy, well adjusted and confident employee, who happens to be from a minority background subject to adverse social reception (ie muslim, LGBT, indigenous, elderly, etc) is placed in an environment where their peers utterly reject them because of who they are.

This rejection isn’t direct, or to their face, it is instead progressive exclusion from work and social events and gatherings, from information vital to their job. They are denied regular contact with their peers and their manager, they do not receive performance reviews or feedback, good or bad, and are left to stew in their own thoughts.

The employee, who wants to do a good job and deliver on their responsibilities, cannot help but notice this. Over time, they begin to internalize it, and assume blame for the behaviour of their peers and manager. They begin to believe that they are the problem, that they are somehow ‘broken’ or ‘unworthy’, and their self-confidence begins to crumble.

As a result, they begin to panic, making mistakes, fearful of being judged or further ostracised. They begin to feel trapped, panic sets in, they see only a sea of enemies, and they feel that their peers consider them worthless and incapable.

Burdened with this, they actually become incapable, trapped in their mental trauma, with no outlet or relief, and this means any opportunity they may have to break the cycle is robbed from them.

Make no mistake, all of this is actually the result of bullying.

“Being ignored as a bullying tactic”

 “Being overlooked can feel distressing; we’ve all felt this from time to time. Being perpetually ignored feels rotten. To the degree a person is important to you, or to the degree you have expectations of that person that are not met, the more pain and rejection you will likely experience.”[8]

This is the meat of the issue right here. It is a horrendously damaging and insidious form of bullying; worse, the perpetrators might not even see themselves as bullies, and be genuinely astounded when their behaviour is pointed out to them.

“Being perpetually ignored is a bullying tactic and it involves what might appear as slight brush offs to the target in order for the bully to gain the upper hand. Remember, when these ‘slight brush offs’ happen over and over again, they evolve from slight to deliberately drastic from their continual impact of isolating the targe”

The most common form of this bullying is eye contact. Ever been in a meeting with someone and they steadfastly refuse to look you in the eye? Or, worse, they actively make eye contact with everyone else in the room and yet repeatedly ignore you? That is bullying. A cornerstone of any company’s philosophy, and certainly Queensland Rail’s, is to treat each other with respect.

This sort of behaviour is not treating others with respect, but most commonly goes unchecked as it is seen as impossible to deal with. This is particularly true when the perpetrator is a senior manager who enjoys considerable prestige and influence.

“Have you ever been the last person to find out about the holiday schedule or have you ever been going about your work happily and you see a flock of co-workers discussing something in an unofficial capacity, but you were not asked your opinion; you were not invited in the first place?”

This is another very common form of subtle bullying. You will be seated at your desk, and suddenly everyone around you will disappear, and no one will bother telling you where they went or why.

Or, you will return to your desk and a previously animated conversation between your co-workers will abruptly cease. People will turn and stare, silently, then return to their desks.

What can as a once off appear trivial or superficial in fact over time can be incredibly damaging to mental health and self-esteem.

Situations where you enter a meeting and people sit as far away as possible from the person being excluded, or refuse to acknowledge or engage them as a peer. Alternatively, they will be outwardly cordial to the employee, but then actively undermine them behind their back.

These are all forms of bullying, and all equally damaging, as well as being equally hard to deal with.

Even if you think these people should just “harden up” and be grateful they even have a job, you are actively hurting your business by allowing it to occur[9].

What can be done?

This sort of toxic behaviour, once embedded in a workplace, is incredibly difficult to dislodge and deal with.

 “Viewing differences positively is a key component of a healthy and inclusive organization. One way to create a more inclusive work environment is to help coworkers view differences as assets rather than as potential liabilities. For example, rather than viewing an older employee as someone who doesn’t fit in a youthful work culture, help coworkers realize that the older person is a valuable, experienced resource. When employees are uncomfortable working with a person from a different culture, help them appreciate how cultural differences can be used to build bridges with clients.”[10]

This is an excellent article that gives a number of tactics in how to promote inclusivity and teamwork.

Rather than taking the approach of saying, “Hey, this is x, they are in a wheelchair, don’t make fun of them”, focus instead on the skill sets and contributions of the employee. “Hey, this is x, and she is an experienced data analyst who worked on the Sunlander 14 project”.

Make the discussion about their skills and abilities, not their point of difference. If you introduce a staff member into a new workforce, even passively, by focusing on how they are different they are, that will always be how they are known in that workplace.

You wouldn’t introduce someone as “Bob, he has brown hair and blue eyes”, as it isn’t relevant. Focus on the individual as being an actual person, not just a minority construct. This will enable others to see them the same way.

Another damaging effect can be the perception of tokenism. “X only got the job because she is black”, people will say. I have personally overheard senior managers bitterly complaining that women are unfairly promoted purely because of their gender, not their skills. This is also bullying, but that aside, it also shows the dangers of a workplace culture where diversity is not accompanied by inclusivity.

 “The report, Talent not Tokenism, shows that promoting diversity need not be expensive, complex or a legal minefield for business. And it identifies some key ingredients for bringing about change, including leadership from senior management and employee involvement, especially through unions and other workforce representatives.

Companies who look beyond the ‘usual suspects’ for staff and employ people on the basis of their abilities and potential, regardless of their sex, race, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion can benefit in many ways, including:

  • Higher morale and productivity, improved retention rates and lower recruitment costs;
  • Better understanding of customers’ needs and greater insight to reach untapped markets;
  • Help in addressing skills shortages.[11]

My plea to you is to help do your bit to prevent this sort of toxic workplace bullying, be it against women, the elderly, the disabled, people of colour, or of different sexualities. Let them be accepted and treated as equals, and help make them feel included as part of the team.

“Director-general of the CBI Richard Lambert said: ‘Employers who take steps to encourage a more diverse workforce notice huge benefits from doing so, whether it is hiring skilled staff, understanding their customers’ needs better or more fundamentally through improved morale and productivity.”

[1] University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business

[2] http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/ostracism-worse-than-workplace-bullying-20140604-zrx7k.html

[3] http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2015/06/15/wisc-trans-teacher-dies-suicide-after-being-bullied-10-years

[4] http://fox6now.com/2016/05/03/teacher-to-mps-days-before-suicide-i-feel-im-being-subtly-bullied-and-its-taking-a-toll-on-my-health/

[5] http://ihraustralia.com/hr-workplace-relations-news/is-exclusion-the-worst-form-of-bullying

[6] https://hbr.org/2014/08/whos-being-left-out-on-your-team/

[7] http://www.queenslandmentalhealth.com/social-exclusion-and-mental-health/

[8] http://www.bullyfreeatwork.com/being-ignored-as-a-bullying-tactic/

[9] http://www.inc.com/jill-krasny/what-happens-when-employees-feel-left-out-at-work.html

[10] http://woman.thenest.com/promote-inclusion-workplace-13786.html

[11] https://www.tuc.org.uk/equality-issues/tuc-and-cbi-report-diversity-workplace


Diversity vs Inclusion

Level the Playing Field

To support any effective diversity policy and inclusion strategy, you need to have a level playing field. This is accompanied by acknowledging the inherent privilege certain employees have due to their background, versus those from disadvantaged groups or minorities that are traditionally discriminated against.

At the forefront should be an effort to ensure that new employees from diverse backgrounds are accepted by the workforce. Not tolerated. In the next section I will step through the differences and give some examples as to how this can be achieved.

Tolerance vs Accepted

To be tolerated, to be honest, sucks. A quick Google search shows why.

Tolerate :
allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference.

The very definition evokes images of employees sitting rigidly, with gritted teeth, seething at having to tolerate working next to someone from a group that they dislike.

Let’s face it- who wants to be tolerated for who they are? To promote ‘tolerance’ is to promote discord and create resentment.

Steer clear of documents or policies that stress ‘tolerance’ instead of acceptance or respect. They are saying, in essence, that you ‘have to put up with it’ rather than ‘here’s how it is good’.

On the flip side, let’s look at acceptance.

Accept :

consent to receive or undertake (something offered).

believe or come to recognize (a proposition) as valid or correct.

Compare the two, right now. Take a step back, and think about yourself in a situation where you have entered a new workplace, and how you would feel, how others might make you feel, and consider which of the above two would appeal more.

If you focus on acceptance, not tolerance, you spread a positive message of change, not a negative, loaded term that invites bias and resentment. The goal is to erode bias, not give it strength, and that is the key difference between the two.


“Guys, we have a new fella starting here today, he’s an aboriginal, so calm down on the coon jokes and stuff or I’ll belt ya. The law says we have to let them work here, so just shut up and accept it”

Imagine the sort of environment this approach will take. Brow beating employees with The Antidiscrimination Act will breed hostility towards the newstart, not acceptance and certainly not respect.


“Good morning everyone. I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to Michael. He has joined us from KPMG and will be working closely with our change team through the CIA for our infrastructure project. Please make him feel welcome and work to bring him up to speed with the plan”.

Don’t mention the ethnicity, the sexuality, whatever- it immediately creates a point of difference and does nothing to promote inclusivity. Additionally, definitely do not tell people not to be racist up front; as mentioned earlier, the assumption that everyone is inherently racist may at times be true, it achieves nothing to accuse outright.

To hammer the point home :

Diversity is not the same as Inclusion. Don’t assume that people want their differences erased in order to be part of the group.[1]

Embrace your inner weirdness

“Want to Be a Great Leader? Start Acting Weirder”[2]

Great title for a great article. Humans are not automatons or robots, they have hearts, minds, feelings, maybe souls, they have beliefs, emotions, kinks, quirks and all manner of weird and wonderful mannerisms that make them delightfully unique.

Expecting everyone to adhere to a HR mandated dominant paradigm is exhausting for both management and their peers.

My own manager recently pulled me into her office to sign a Code of Conduct form demonstrating I knew how to treat and interact with my employees and peers. During the process, I expressed a thought, almost offhand. “You know, if we came running to you every single time someone got offended, we would have you doing nothing but complaints 24/7”

She agreed, and then clarified- “it is about what can be brushed off, and what needs to be dealt with”.

This is mostly true. As I discussed earlier, you need to delineate between bias and detrimental bias. If someone gets into a raging argument over whether Coke is better than Pepsi, for example, you are well within your rights as a manager or peer to tell them to pull their heads in.

If, though, you have an employee attack another for being an unwed mother, which isn’t uncommon in conservative companies[3], you have a problem. This is a detrimental bias that has a significant and substantial effect on office morale and productivity.

Hence, the theory behind the above mentioned article. Let you staff be free. Let them be open and honest about who they are, and their performance will soar. Don’t tolerate them as long as they shut up about being who they are, instead see it as an opportunity to enhance workplace productivity by enhancing their self esteem and sense of belonging.

Example- As a transgender employee, I run into brick walls of intolerance and bias every day. 90% of them I let slide. Why? Because you need to pick your battles, and identify what is a deliberate, harmful bias instead of a perfectly natural response to the unknown. In the intervening time, I would say I have built successful working relationships with everyone I have worked with, without sacrificing my personal identity.

BUT. I did make some critically bad missteps earlier in the piece that I regret immensely. For example, after I transitioned, my then-manager pulled me into a room and questioned me fairly inappropriately on my sexual preferences. I refused to respond, as it was irrelevant (mistake #1- I had nothing to be ashamed of). He then said it was one thing to accept me transitioning, but it was too much for the ‘team’ to accept I was also attracted to men; it would make them uncomfortable.

As a result, I was barred from having photos of my loved ones (of either gender!) or partner in my cubicle, and forbidden from discussing my relationship; this resulted in months silently suffering through extended discussions between my peers about their husbands, wives and kids, while I could say nothing.

Worse, no one ever asked. Terrified as they were of being seen as bigoted, they reacted by pretending I was some strange asexual being who had no passions or desires for anyone, and existed in a vacuum.

It was with tremendous relief that I have been able to be far more open in my new team about my relationship, and join in discussions with my peers around a common workplace discussion- family.

Equity vs Equality

This is a good time to broach the contentious topic of Equality vs Equity. My workplace has a strong Equity policy that actively supports the recruitment and promotion of employees from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds (which they for now restrict to women, indigenous, non-english speaking background and people with disabilities- we are working through an updated version of this policy this year)

This can rankle members of traditionally advantaged groups who feel that they are being discriminated against, but equity policies that level the playing field are not discrimination.

“When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression”[4]

This needs to be carved into the walls of every workplace in the country.

Giving disadvantaged employees a leg up is good business too. As previously discussed, the positive impacts on productivity, profitability and customer experience from a strong policy of diversity, AND inclusion, are multitudinous[5]. There are solid economic reasons why most companies are including a strong equity policy as part of their corporate charter, and none of them are related, as many critics claim, to pressure to be “politically correct”.

Equity makes sense, profits wise.

This can breed resentment amongst traditionally advantaged groups. White, cisgender, heterosexual males, especially middle aged, are used to quickly advancing into positions of power and influence and not being questioned in their authority, a culture that is rapidly vanishing in the modern workplace. As a result, you see younger men lashing out at what they perceive to be injustices; they are entering a workforce that is recovering from centuries of unreconstructed male dominance, and feel threatened and marginalised.

This is where acceptance has to trump tolerance. Equity breeds resentment from members of traditionally advantaged groups, because they do not always perceive members of minorities to be ‘disadvantaged’, which results in nonsense like this[6]. An solid, workable, inclusive equity policy caters to people from all backgrounds, and acknowledges socioeconomic disadvantages (which can affect white English speaking men and women as well as anyone, and are covered in a later chapter)

Encouraging your staff to embrace diversity, and to embrace each others’ differences, is vital in the modern workplace, and they might even learn something in the process. Don’t teach people to tolerate because they have to; lead them to accept because they want to. As stepped through earlier, getting someone to recognize and challenge their own personal biases and prejudices is a healing process as much as a productive one, and it can be achieved.

Acceptance stymied by Religious Beliefs

It is important to recognize that there can be acceptance between what would appear to be mutually exclusive groups despite fundamental differences of opinion. The bogus claim of ‘religious exemption’ from anti-discrimination laws, for example, needs to be exposed and debunked, as do attempts to hide blatant discrimination behind such beliefs[7].

The counter point that religious groups make is that ‘forcing’ them to accept others who practice activities contrary to their own belief system is oppression and a restriction of religious freedom. This is also fallacious. No religious belief system renders an individual immune from the repercussions of their actions, and nor should it. An individual is entirely entitled to believe that homosexuality is wrong, and they can hold that belief indefinitely. What they cannot do is use that bias to discriminate against others.

True free speech in practical forms is often governed by Joel Feinberg’s “Offense Principle”

“It is always a good reason in support of a proposed criminal prohibition that it would probably be an effective way of preventing serious offense…to persons other than the actor, and that it is probably a necessary means to that end…The principle asserts, in effect, that the prevention of offensive conduct is properly the state’s business”[8]

Of course, we run into the problem then of what is considered ‘offensive’; for the purposes of this paper, I will restrict such discussion to what I previously termed detrimental bias. If an individual is not comfortable with outward displays of physical affection between members of the same sex, we can not realistically rob that individual of the right to that reaction, but we can explain, through tactics explained earlier (one on one discussions, step into my shoes, etc) how that behaviour is harmful.

Ultimately, however, the initial goal is to ensure their bias, unjustified or not, does not adversely impact the mental health and wellbeing of other individuals in the workplace. By allowing such impacts to occur, for sake of respecting ‘religious beliefs’ or similar excuses, the manager ultimately harms productivity and efficiency, and adversely impacts customer experience as a result.

Bottom line- the ideal result is to create an environment where everyone, though strategies outlined above, can share experiences and beliefs in an open, constructive manner, contributing to workplace harmony and efficiency. In the interim, the focus should be on giving disadvantaged employees the correct support to succeed in their career, and to ensure others do not impact them adversely with their own bias or prejudices.

[1] https://hbr.org/2014/08/whos-being-left-out-on-your-team/

[2] http://www.inc.com/aj-agrawal/want-to-be-a-great-leader-start-acting-weirder.html

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/first-amendment-defense-act_us_55a7ffe6e4b04740a3df4ca1?section=australia

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-boeskool/when-youre-accustomed-to-privilege_b_9460662.html

[5] http://www.businesschicks.com.au/articles/featured/why-creating-an-inclusive-workplace-is-good-for-the-bottom-line

[6] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/01/i-hate-to-break-it-to-feminists-but-white-male-privilege-is-a-myth/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terry-oneill/religion-is-no-excuse-for_b_5008347.html

[8] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freedom-speech/


Diversity vs Inclusion

There is a difference, and why it matters.

Previously, we talked about the push for diversity we are seeing in many modern workplaces. There is a commitment broadly splashed across many corporate pages where the company rants about how much they respect diversity, are committed to diversity, how much they are happy to work with, beside and for people from all backgrounds.

The net they cast is wide. That is probably warranted, given the range of issues people are diverse around. Gender, race, sexuality, disability, culture, religion, hair colour, physical and mental health, political beliefs, the list goes on.

All this seems most admirable. Here we are, stepping out into the 21st century, with this wonderful brave new world where everyone can be exactly who they are, without risk of censure or recrimination.

Except, no.

Let me explain. Firstly, an excellent piece from Forbes-

“Mixed gender executive boards have outperformed all-male ones by 26% over the last six years according to research by Credit Suisse, while global studies have shown that organizations with diverse and inclusive cultures are 45% more likely to have improved their market share in the last 12 months, and have employees who not only give greater discretionary effort but are also less likely to leave. The experimental research suggests that higher market growth is driven by more innovation and better quality decision making within diverse and inclusive teams.”[1]

The data is definitely there to support why companies should care about diversity. But what the article also excellent expands on is why diversity without inclusion is incredibly ineffectual and is actually detrimental to business. Before you leap to conclusions, let me point out that this is not a criticism of a diverse workforce; it is a criticism of diversity policies that do not actively promote inclusion.

“Few organizations even distinguish between diversity and inclusion, let alone measure or target them individually. While diversity can be addressed as a compliance issue and tracked fairly easily, the range of individual behaviors which make up inclusion mean it’s trickier to pin down and add to an HR leader’s goals.”

Therein lies the rub. Diversity can be quantified and reported on. A HR manager can report to senior executives in neat little pie charts and diagrams. “Last quarter, we employed 25% more women and 12.2% more people with disabilities”. Go us. Inclusion, however, is not so neatly sorted and quantified, and is immeasurably harder to promote as a result.

Managers held to targets and KPIs need hard data to substantiate claims. They can’t go on ‘gut’ if they don’t have the data to back it up. Diversity is easy. With contemporary society’s obsession with categorising everyone into neat little boxes, you can deliver outstanding reports that prove how important diversity is to an organisation


This is all well and good, and can satisfy KPIs for diversity, which do exist! Additionally, it gives a manager an opportunity to ‘address’ a shortfall in diversity- just recruit a few more people from that box, and your bonus is assured.

Except, again, no.

Diversity is not the same as Inclusion. Don’t assume that people want their differences erased in order to be part of the group.[2]

Let’s go back to basic definitions.

Diversity : I am going to highlight an Australian corporate examples[3]. Why PwC? Because they are currently #1 on Pride in Diversity’s Equality Index[4].

PwC Australia

Enhancing our diversity and inclusion is a critical part of PwC Australia’s vision, values and strategy. We believe that fostering inclusion, promoting broad perspectives and driving diverse career opportunities for our people will enable us to create a distinctive experience for our clients and create better outcomes for society.[5]

Diversity is one of our CEO’s seven key priorities. In July 2014 we appointed the firm’s first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, a position that sits on the PwC Australia’s Executive Board. We also have an external Diversity Advisory Board comprised of six leading diversity experts from the marketplace, as well as our CEO and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

Here is an example of how to get it right, and then so very wrong. Let’s start with the fluff- yes, we know diversity is important, bonus points for mentioning and singling out inclusion as equally important and not the same as diversity. That as an opening statement is fine.

But, next paragraph down-

We have publically announced two targets:

  • from 1 July 2015, a minimum of 40% women and 40% men making up our future partner admits. The remaining 20% can be either men or women.
  • by 2016, at least of 20% of our partner admits will be from a diverse cultural background, rising to 30% by 2020.


Right away, straight back to the original problem I stated above. PwC’s ‘approach’ can appear from an outsiders’ view to simply shoehorn people from the right boxes into roles, with no other forethoughts or consideration, so they can reel off a statistic.

We have publically announced two targets:

  • from 1 July 2015, a minimum of 40% women and 40% men making up our future partner admits. The remaining 20% can be either men or women.
  • by 2016, at least of 20% of our partner admits will be from a diverse cultural background, rising to 30% by 2020.


And another round of stats and figures.

What about inclusion? How do they support these individuals that they slot into their organisation? How do they foster an environment where these people will be accepted and respected? Furthermore, how to they ensure that the candidate is a ‘best fit’ for the role, and not just a number to boost a statistic on a board report?

Example- some may recognize the name Mark Allaby. He is an executive at PwC, and was also for a time a board member of the Australian Christian Lobby, an organisation that does not support diversity or inclusion whatsoever. When called on the conflict, Allaby stepped down from his position on the ACL’s board, and the situation seemed resolved.

How many more Mark Allabys are lurking, however, in the upper echelons of PwC? How many managers are making daily decisions based on their own personal moral compass, rather than company policy?

PwC says that 20% must be from a diverse cultural background, does that mean they can freely decline any further applications irrespective of merit once that benchmark is set? What if 80% of the candidates for a role or department that are the best fit are all from the same cultural background? Do you start firing some to make way for other backgrounds, because diversity?

Of course not. And this is where Inclusion becomes the buzzword that corporations should be chasing. Forcing workplaces to accept that 40% of jobs must go to x or y person irrespective of qualifications, experience or ability simply fosters an environment of resentment and is incredibly demoralizing. Additionally, the person shoehorned into that role is going to have an incredibly rough time of it.

There are several steps in achieving this goal, that of course include recruiting people from diverse backgrounds in the first place (which most companies have already admirably covered in their diversity policies)


Step One- Seek Diversity. As mentioned, this is generally well covered by many major players in Australia’s corporate sphere. Essentially, you want a good, strong, flexible diversity policy that actively seeks to engage with people from diverse backgrounds, and to invite them to bring their skills, talents and abilities into your workplace.

Step Two- Overcome Bias. Bias is where the problems begin, and no diversity policy I have read actively or sufficiently targets this particular elephant in the room. Bias can be conscious (I hate prawns) or unconscious (for some reason prawns make me uncomfortable) and in virtually all cases is driven by external influence, much of it beginning in childhood.

Step Three- Foster Inclusion. If you are going to go to all the time and effort of recruiting people from diverse backgrounds, you owe it to both your shareholders and yourself to make them feel included!

There are important factors to consider in this piece. When promoting inclusion in your workplace, you need to remember that

  1. People are not inherently bigoted or hateful. These behaviours are learned, and can be unlearned
  2. People who disagree with you are not inherently evil or immoral. This is a matter of perspective, and can also be negotiated
  3. People from diverse backgrounds do not generally expect ‘special’ treatment- they simply want to be treated the same as everyone else
  4. No matter how hard it gets at times, it is worth it. The benefits of a happy, healthy, functioning diverse workplace that fosters active inclusion are immeasurable (though I do try in the appendices!)

It is important to recognize out the outset that everyone holds biases, both conscious and unconscious (implicit social cognition)[6]. This bias permeates every interaction we have, every day of our lives, both professional and personal.

It is also important to acknowledge that bias isn’t inherently wrong or ‘evil’. This is particularly true of unconscious bias. Bias exists, but it exists on its own terms, and does not automatically imply that the holder of that bias is somehow broken or wrong, and nor is it something that would be universally condemned as bad by mainstream society.

But it is, nonetheless, a bias. A person who displays deliberate bias towards social policies that advance the underprivileged ahead of big business is still demonstrating a bias, the same as someone who is biased against people of a specific race or culture.

People who hold biases (ie, all of us) do not usually recognize that they hold a bias. People generally like to think that they are ‘free’ from bigoted or prejudicial behaviours, and fall into what is referred to as the Bias Blind Spot[7].

““People seem to have no idea how biased they are. Whether a good decision-maker or a bad one, everyone thinks that they are less biased than their peers”

This poses the first significant challenge in overcoming bias-

They also found that people with a high bias blind spot are those most likely to ignore the advice of peers or experts, and are least likely to learn from de-biasing training that could improve the quality of their decisions.

If people don’t realize they are being biased, and have no idea how it affects others, then the challenge of dealing with bias becomes proportionately more difficult.

The initial step is to not associate a person’s character, suitability or worth with any biases they may hold, conscious or unconscious. A bias can be learned, or taught, and over time can be unlearned, and adjusted. It is not an easy process, however, and has not been successfully resolved in full in any existing research[8].

Once you can separate the bias from the person, you have achieved an important first step in working to overcome it. I do not wish to use terms as ‘remove’ or ‘eliminate’ bias, because that is impossible. I also want to try and avoid labelling any bias as good or bad, but will rather defer to what I term detrimental bias.

But, I have said that it hasn’t yet been successfully resolved by any workplace that can prove it? What you can do in the meantime though, is tackle calling out biases in your workplace, and work towards resolving them to the point that they are not a detrimental bias.

A number of excellent articles are immediately available with tips and tricks on how to tackle this growing problem that accompanies diversity policies[9]. At the core, the ideal response, aside from encouraging the employee to acknowledge and challenge their own bias is ensuring that it doesn’t impact the inclusion of other employees. I will step through this process below, for both types of bias.

Firstly, with conscious bias, we have a clear demonstration of detrimental bias that has an objective source. If an employee loudly and clearly proclaims that they don’t like gays, or don’t believe women should be managers, then the bias is clear and pronounced, is demonstrably prejudicial, and should in most cases be adequately covered by existing workplace codes of conduct governing such behaviours.

In short, they’d be disciplined or fired. Knowing this, holders of conscious bias are far less likely in the modern workforce to openly state such beliefs, but this should not ever be used as a basis for any assumption that they no longer hold them. As I discussed in the chapter on Exclusion, a common form of bullying, people will conceal conscious bias through subtle action that cannot be readily or easily proven to be prejudicial.

The obvious trap some fall into is to therefore assume that everyone in the workplace is bigoted and loaded with detrimental bias, and subject everyone to the same treatment. This tendency to lump everyone in the same basket is a common mistake amongst corporate HR departments, and normally occurs because it is simply easier to blame everyone than to single out individuals and open the door for potential counter-complaints.

The result of this is the company wide workshops and talks that most of the readers here have experienced during their working lives. Call everyone into a room, tell them that hating black people is bad, and that they need to stop doing it right now. Everyone signs a form, proving they heard the talk, and goes back to work.

Result- absolutely nothing. If anything, calling people on bias they may not necessarily hold can in fact create bias where none previously existed!

“If the shoe fits…”

Inserting a number of new employees from diverse backgrounds into a workplace and then lecturing them about why they need to ‘tolerate’ these new employees because it’s the law does absolutely nothing. In fact, the most extreme result of such attempts to foster diversity result in the rise of people like Donald Trump. People will cheerfully rally to support someone who calls out what they see as ‘bullying’, as they grow weary of constantly being labelled ‘bigots’ by people who make no effort to actively reach out and understand them.

Instead, the best way to approach conscious bias is to challenge such beliefs through shared experience. In a fascinating new study, researchers found that even a very brief encounter, face to face and personal, with a member of a minority group can substantially reduce bias against that group[10].

In light of influential theories that depict prejudiced attitudes as highly durable and resistant to change, it is surprising that brief personal interactions with strangers could markedly and enduringly reduce prejudice in a field setting. Rigorous field research has seldom documented brief interventions capable of producing large and lasting reductions in prejudice, leading the present results to represent a rare challenge to these theories.

Following on from this, a simple and highly effective tactic you could attempt in your own workplace is to have a program that actively encourages members of diverse groups to meet with employees and share their stories and experiences, rather than lecturing from the corporate HR pulpit. It is critical that members of these communities be allowed to tell their own stories, however, and not through the mouth of a HR representative.

Queensland Rail, for example, includes a section in their weekly notice and on their employee web portal called ‘Step into my Shoes’

“The ‘Step Into My Shoes’ initiative was recently launched to provide an opportunity to increase our awareness and appreciation of the diverse cultures and experiences of Queensland Rail staff. The response to this initiative has been fantastic and the stories shared by staff have been inspiring and eye opening.”

This terrific initiative allows employees from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to tell their own stories, directly to their peers, and to in turn field comments and questions from their peers about their experiences, in a positive, non-confrontational manner. The results of this (which can be substantiated with research referenced earlier) are to create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing their identities, and communicating it to their peers, and their peers can find relatable shared experiences in the story that foster an environment of inclusion[11].

This can also help address unconscious bias, when done correctly. Rather than assuming everyone holds unconscious bias, even if they do, instead simply take the time to educate and promote mutual respect through programs like the above.

Another great tactic to tackle unconscious bias is to demonstrate it with actual real life examples. This was achieved incredibly well with the ‘Racism in the Elevator’ short on Youtube[12]. This was a great example of unconscious bias which is the result of learned behaviour, influenced by racist stereotypes in the media. When mainstream media outlets engage in demonstrable behaviour that powerfully influences unconscious and conscious bias, such as over reporting crime with black perpetrators as a proportion of actual arrests, then these behaviours are spread[13].

Closer to home, we see similar examples with the bias against low income earners and the unemployed, perpetrated by both the government and mainstream media outlets in Australia[14]. Bias against economically disadvantaged groups is just as detrimental as bias against other marginalised groups, and can create considerable barriers to these individuals re-entering the workforce. In fact, I have devoted a whole chapter to workforce integration for these groups later on.

Beyond Blue launched a successful awareness campaign with a video highlighting a combination of conscious and unconscious bias that is harmful to the mental health and self esteem of indigenous members of the community[15]. While the powerful message resonated with many, the criticisms that also accompanied the video were largely fuelled by a resentment from the mainstream community that they were all inherently racist.

This damaging retort to any anti-discrimination movements is also firmly encapsulated in the feminism movement, resulting in the #notallmen hashtag becoming a common reference to the situation.

Example- a woman posts a story about her rape. A man immediately responds, angrily crying out that ‘not all men’ are rapists.

Same story with the Beyond Blue video. Comments followed with posters crying out how they weren’t racists, they found the insinuation offensive.

That’s the problem with unconscious bias. Many people don’t even realize they are biased or hold bigoted or prejudicial views. Worse, the mainstream media knows this all too well; psychologists are as frequently consulted as marketing consultants in many major media and advertising firms.

Playing to a person’s unconscious bias is the bread and butter of so-called ‘clickbait’ media organisations. This is especially pervasive in a climate where terrorist attacks are a daily occurrence somewhere in the world, where racial and cultural unrest is climbing rapidly, where homophobia and transphobia is boiling to the surface in marriage equality debates and the furore around bathrooms in the USA.

How does this relate to the workplace?

You can see how easy it is to trigger unconscious bias through targeted media and advertising, playing to people’s base prejudices, that everyone holds. The trick is, however, how to reverse that. We discussed the ‘step into their shoes’ type campaigns, as employed by some companies.

However, the goal here is to also seek to alleviate the anger that people feel when they think they are being unfairly accused of being bigoted or exhibiting bias. Rare is the person in the modern workforce who is proudly racist or sexist. “I’m not racist but…” is a common trope seen in social media.

A first priority should be to let people explore their own biases in a private setting, where only they are privy to the results. This eliminates much of the same that can be associated with having a bias or prejudice exposed. And shaming someone for their beliefs is not conducive to a positive outcome, despite how tempting it may be!

This can be achieved via an Implicit Associations test[16]. Remember the videos linked above discussing unconscious bias held against people of colour or indigenous people? These are far more prevalent amongst white westerners than any of us feel comfortable admitting. This is well recognized by other ethnic groups, which is why they say things like “All whites are racist”, and while this creates anger and frustration, it is not without its merits.

Of course, no one likes to think they are a bigot, even the most bigoted people online go to great lengths to stress how not-bigoted they are, how they aren’t prejudiced at all. So the inherent assumption in modern society is that bigotry is bad. That is one battle won.

The second battle is to point out to people in a non-confrontational way that they hold hidden prejudices that result in bias in the workplace. It is a well documented occurrence in recruitment and HR departments.

“The Australian Human Rights Commission has said there is a growing trend of immigrants adopting Western names in the hope it will get them hired.

“There are still elements of race discrimination in employment. It is certainly present and problematic,” Disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes told HC.”[17]

This is a bias that could be conscious or unconscious, but exists nonetheless and is detrimental to the effectiveness of the recruitment process in identifying the best candidate. A great idea to combat this is being trialled in Victoria now (in May 2016).

For the first time in Australia, the Victorian government will trial removing personal details – such as name, gender, age and location – from job applications to rule out discrimination or unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias – when hidden beliefs or attitudes influence our behaviour – has long been a bugbear for those championing workplace diversity.[18]

This absolutely brilliant approach would enable a candidate to at least get a foot in the door without being shot down by biased recruitment agencies or HR departments, where discrimination is rife.

Unconscious bias in recruiting remains a problem. A 2010 paper found that to attain as many interviews as an Anglo job applicant, an Italian person must submit 12% more job applications, an Indigenous person 35%, a Middle Eastern person 64%, and a Chinese person 68% more[19].

As discussed earlier, a direct face-to-face meeting with someone from a diverse background is a terrific counter to bias, and if you combine this with the blind recruitment process, you have a way to introduce businesses to diverse candidates without being able to make prior prejudicial decisions, instead being forced to actually meet and talk with the candidates and learn about them as a person, not a racial or sexual statistic, for example.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/sebastianbailey/2014/05/20/why-we-should-prioritize-the-i-in-d-and-i/#2993ff5a77ee

[2] https://hbr.org/2014/08/whos-being-left-out-on-your-team/

[3] As a side note- the problem with our neat little categorisation system is that you always run the risk of excluding someone for some reason, when you become trapped by your own wording. My suggestion would be to never ‘list out’ all the types of backgrounds diversity covers; simply say ‘all of them’

[4] http://www.prideindiversity.com.au/

[5] http://www.pwc.com.au/about-us/diversity-and-inclusion.html

[6] http://archive.boston.com/news/science/blogs/science-in-mind/2013/02/05/everyone-biased-harvard-professor-work-reveals-barely-know-our-own-minds/7x5K4gvrvaT5d3vpDaXC1K/blog.html

[7] http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2015/june/bias-blind-spot.html

[8] http://www.forbes.com/sites/sebastianbailey/2014/08/14/can-you-overcome-inbuilt-bias/#1397877637ef

[9] Example piece from The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2015/dec/14/recognise-overcome-unconscious-bias

[10] http://www.citylab.com/navigator/2016/04/a-10-minute-face-to-face-conversation-can-reduce-prejudice/477507/

[11] For further reading on inclusion http://www.aperianglobal.com/leaders-diversity-inclusion-5-lessons-top-global-companies/

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRfjLfyXYlA

[13] http://mediamatters.org/research/2015/03/23/report-new-york-city-television-stations-contin/202553

[14] https://newmatilda.com/2016/03/05/malcolm-turnbull-escalates-his-war-on-the-poor-and-unemployed/

[15] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvTyI41PvTk

[16] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-practice/201508/6-ways-overcome-your-biases-good

[17] http://www.hcamag.com/hr-news/hr-overlooks-applicants-with-nonwestern-names-128853.aspx

[18] http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3918532/wanted-no-age-no-name-no-gender/?cs=80

[19] http://www.themandarin.com.au/65306-name-blind-recruiting-to-undo-unconscious-bias-in-victoria/


Communication and how it contributes to bullying behaviours

I have throughout my working life experienced a number of the above scenarios, as have those from minority groups I have spoken to over the past several years. This article, however, is not about anyone specifically. I am going to include these examples, though, as ‘real life’ scenarios that can and do occur in a workplace.

Eye Contact

Making and sustaining eye contact is an integral component to successive and inclusive communication. While it is frowned on in some cultures, and this must be kept in mind when interacting with people from different backgrounds, it is not viewed negatively in Australia, and as such the lack of it is immediately noticeable.

A number of managers and peers I deal with regularly have a complete inability to make eye contact with me, but no issue doing so with their other peers. This is especially disorienting when it is someone you report to directly. A senior manager of my acquaintance would make it a habit of making and holding eye contact with my team mates, but look away from me, perhaps unconsciously, even when I was talking or answering a question.

“We give more attention to and make greater eye contact with people we consider our superiors and less to those whom we feel are inferior to us. All of us unconsciously play these power games with our eyes, even using eye contact to manipulate a social situation in order to get what we want.”[1]

There can be a gender angle to this too- men are noted to be more likely to use eye contact, or lack of it, to establish dominance in a situation. Women are more likely to notice the lack of eye contact-

“… lack of eye contact is the primary nonverbal cue that women mention when they tell me that they are not being “taken seriously by the opposite sex“-this is one of the top complaints women have about men. Janice, a corporate vice president, for instance, may perceive that when she is in a face-to-face interaction with her counterpart Ed, and he does not look at her, it’s because he doesn’t care about her message. This is understandable.”

The importance of eye contact in professional communication, at least in the West, cannot be overstated, and has been extensively researched.

 “Cultural respective eye contact is one of the main components of non-verbal communication,” Reiman explains. The ability to gaze at another while speaking denotes authority, confidence, and presence. “Studies suggest that holding eye contact while speaking has an enormous impact on your ability to persuade. Lack of eye contact often implies deception,” she says. When breaking eye contact, it is better to break off to the left or to the right, as looking down suggests insecurity.[2]

Body Language and nonverbal communication

This also interpolates into to body language. How people react physically to each other is a telling factor in how they view each other and how they perceive each others’ worth and importance (or lack thereof).

There are key examples of this. A former supervisor of mine had the terribly bad habit of rolling his eyes upward whenever he was asked something he didn’t like, or challenged on a statement or question he raised. Oddly enough, he wasn’t even aware he did it, but it was incredibly infuriating.

Whenever clarification was sought on a request or directive, he would roll his eyes and then begin to speak. This subtle but damaging form of non verbal communication of frustration and annoyance is counter productive to effective business operation, and damages the integrity of team relationships, and manager-employee relationships.

Another example is the ‘crossed arms’ approach. Another manager I worked for had a habit, in meetings, of sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms when challenged or faced with a question or suggestion he didn’t like. This can often be accompanied by the eyeroll. Both are bullying behaviours. To accentuate the point, he would stick his legs out and cross them as he leaned back in his chair.

This would also extend to how he entered and exited the meeting, to establish his own need to feel dominant in the proceedings. A meeting would be called, and he would always, always enter 5 minutes late, on his phone, to assure everyone how ‘busy’ he was. He would sit in the corner furthest from the speaker and assume his default pose, described above.

This had a twofold effect of stating, firstly, that what he had going on was more important than this meeting, and thus as a secondary effect stated without being spelled out that he was more important than the other attendees in the meeting, and thus was automatically worthy of respect.

This sort of behaviour, in the right audience, can create an undeserved or illusory sense of authority or expertise that covers up the actual relevance or status of the person performing it.

In this manager’s case, his own technical knowledge and expertise was severely limited compared to his peers and subordinates, so he compensated for his own feelings of insecurity by projecting a carefully constructed image of being ‘above it all’ and far too busy to worry about trivialities, and many personality types react to this by intrinsically accepting the behaviour as proof of the person’s authority and expertise.

“Walk around like you own the joint. Works for me!”

Doctor Who

Verbal Tools

To continue with this case study, the tactics to establish dominance through nonverbal bullying feeds into verbal communication as well. Much of the tactics of the latter feed off gender politics and traditional gender roles, and a skilled bully will manipulate these to their advantage.

It is important to note at this stage that while the behaviour I have discussed so far can seem like it would be repellent if you faced it personally, many of the managers who practice this style of dominance can actually be quite charismatic and even likeable, as long as they do not feel threatened.

Bullying behaviour is often a response to a bully’s own sense of insecurity and inadequacy, particularly in the face of the changing dynamics of the modern workforce. The promotion of women has caused many older male managers to react sharply and negatively, and their resistance to the skills and capacities of others manifests itself in the expressions of aggression outlined in these case studies.

The first tactic is to attack the credibility of the speaker. This, when tied into the previous point around gender interaction, has when performed by a male been deemed ‘mansplaining’. This is a somewhat loaded term with sexist connotations, and it should not be inferred that only men engage in this patronizing behaviour, and that women are not capable of bullying communication. Generally, however, bullying by women, particularly against other women, takes a markedly different form.


On mansplaining-

I had a male gynecologist once mansplain to me about cervical pain I was experiencing after sex. He said, ‘It’s very unlikely that you can sense cervical pain that specifically. You might be mistaking gastrointestinal distress…’ He shut up when I used extremely graphic hand gestures to pinpoint where and when my pain was occurring.”[3]

This type of behaviour is particularly prevalent in STEM fields[4].

This is an exceedingly common occurrence, however, in traditionally male dominated workplaces like our own, where the inclusion of women in management positions threatens traditionally held notions of gender roles and proprietary. The assumption that certain fields are intrinsically ‘male’, such as engineering and transport services, can mean male managers feel threatened with women intruding on what they see as their space.

This is damaging but a very real problem that needs addressing. In my own case I have seen my own immediate managers face it from their peers and even their subordinates on a daily basis, in meetings, in even casual discussions, and worse, the perpetrator doesn’t often even realize they are doing it.

In a meeting including my case study from above, his general approach when questioned on his role or expertise is to either double down on the passive aggressiveness, i.e., arms crossed, stare at the floor, or at his phone in annoyance, or to go to the other extreme. This involves an exasperated sigh, and then “Look, it works like this…” big arm gestures, open hands… look at me I am all conciliatory… Slow and steady tone and pace, simple words, dumb it down for the lady…

This isn’t restricted by gender though, men can ‘mansplain’ even to other men, and do so frequently, particularly when their authority is challenged, they tend to devolve to pack wolf mentality, and brawl over who is alpha, which can be amusing to witness but can also be incredibly damaging to team performance and end results for the customer.

The other frequent triggers for traditional management are related to age, and qualifications. When faced with a younger, more educated professional of any gender, the passive aggressive or dismissive communication comes to the forefront. This takes the form of all of the above examples, including eye contact restrictions, dismissive body language, speaking patterns, and, if sufficiently threatened, actual aggression.

Remember that personal insecurity feeds into feelings of inadequacy that are triggered when faced with someone who demonstrates skill or intelligence to a level that may threaten to expose the inadequacies of the bully.

This can be inadequacies both real and imagined. Let’s go back to my case study, an old school manager who went straight from high school into the business and worked his way up over 30 years to his current senior position. This is a man who perceives his worth primarily by the longevity of his career, and is dismissive and patronising to degree qualified professionals because he feels threatened by them.

He would preface his response to every situation where his authority or knowledge was challenged with “Well, I have been here for 30 years, and you are wrong…” The logic here being it was the one thing he could never be beaten on. Sure, other employees could be smarter, younger, more creative, more adaptable, more qualified, but he would cling tenaciously to the one thing that he felt was inviolable- his tenure.

Dangerous and destructive. Worse, it is entirely possible that he brings a tremendous amount of experience from his 30 years that would be gratefully accepted by the new employees, and could embrace in turn their own skills and education, to bring innovation and change into the workforce. However, instead, he decides to bunker down and cling to his traditions.

Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.”

I have seen situations where he would take reams of carefully analysed and constructed data and toss them aside, saying simply “I don’t need ‘reports’ to tell me how to do my job’. Translation- ‘I don’t understand this and feel threatened by it, so I will disregard it to the detriment of my business unit’.

This will have only two possible outcomes, both negative. First, the manager gets their way and protects their turf, and rejects or expels all advocates of change, to the severe detriment of the business. Second, HR or senior management recognizes the blockage and removes him, and his knowledge and expertise is lost to the business. The latter, however, is in the long term infinitely more desirable.

Knowledge can be acquired, as can experience, but toxic mentalities like the above are best dealt with through removal, as re-education is futile and will ultimately fail, plus it will actually make the manager miserable as you force him hopelessly out of his comfort zone.


The Other Side

In case anyone thinks this is a decidedly one sided attack on the male gender, there is substantial evidence on widespread and pervasive women, particularly women on women, bullying in the workplace as well.

“Having spent decades working in psychology, a field heavily populated by highly competitive women, I had certainly seen the queen bee before: The female boss who not only has zero interest in fostering the careers of women who aim to follow in her footsteps, but who might even actively attempt to cut them off at the pass.”[5]

The ‘Queen Bee’ syndrome is still alive and well in today’s modern workplace. From the study in the 1970s-

“They found that women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women. This occurred, they argued, largely because the patriarchal culture of work encouraged the few women who rose to the top to become obsessed with maintaining their authority.

While you would think that this behaviour vanishes in a more modern workplace, nothing could be further from the truth-

“A 2011 survey of 1,000 working women by the American Management Association found that 95% of them believed they were undermined by another woman at some point in their careers. According to a 2008 University of Toronto study of nearly 1,800 U.S. employees, women working under female supervisors reported more symptoms of physical and psychological stress than did those working under male supervisors.”[6]

Interesting to note is that much of this behaviour, like many workplace behaviours, mimics those of the school yard.

“As the old male-dominated workplace has been transformed, many have hoped that the rise of female leaders would create a softer, gentler kind of office, based on communication, team building and personal development. But instead, some women are finding their professional lives dominated by high school “mean girls” all grown up: women with something to prove and a precarious sense of security.”

Like male bullies, much of the behaviour of women bullies is rooted in their own personal insecurities and lack of self-confidence or self-esteem.It is entirely possible that this behaviour is rooted in misogyny they faced in their own careers. The first senior manager I worked under at a major, internationally known finance company, spoke often to me of her experiences in the 1980s in the banking and financial sector.

Accusations of sleeping her way to the top, of being groped and propositioned, at being denied promotions time and again, to being damaged to the point where she became incredibly bitter and battle hardened, and by her own admission envious of how easy women entering the workforce now have it compared to her own experience.

From this experience, she became a fierce bully, a known and recognized ‘career killer’ and backstabber, and her own professional development stagnated, as she continued to wallow in her own self pity, ruthlessly removing any and all who threatened her dominance, in much the same way my previous case study did in his own shop.

Different genders, same root cause. Self-esteem and jealousy. These sorts of personalities have their own incredibly broken internal barometers on ‘right and wrong’, on what is ‘fair’ and what is ‘unfair’. They feel completely justified in lashing out and cutting newcomers off at the legs because, hell, they paid their dues, who did these uppity newcomers think they were?

However, not all women, or men for that matter, can invoke either excuse for their behaviours.

“You can forget counting on the bonds of “sisterhood” in the workplace to help you get ahead because women are more likely to back-stab and undermine other women than are men. In fact, multiple studies show that female bosses can be some of the most difficult to work for, much less advance under, especially if you are also a woman. Male “bully” bosses are less discriminatory than women who single out women and tend to dole out unfair practices regardless of gender.[7] “

It may, however, ultimately prove to be futile working out how this situation occurs.

“Despite an available plethora of opinions as to why powerful women undermine other women, the bottom line is that it really does not matter what broad statistics report when you are the one being bullied or undervalued. Women are human and human motives are always unique to each individual and rather than waste time trying to understand your boss, focus on solutions on how to work around her if you cannot work with her.”

Sound advice. Given the amount of toxic managers in this workplace, and others like it, of both genders, the better approach is to spend less time focusing on why and more on how to deal with it.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/he-speaks-she-speaks/201009/the-politics-eye-contact-gender-perspective

[2] http://www.executivestyle.com.au/ten-workplace-body-language-mistakes-372qp

[3] http://www.sheknows.com/living/articles/1119925/mansplaining

[4] http://the-toast.net/2013/11/04/gal-science-mansplaining-physics/

[5] http://www.workplacebullying.org/wsj-5/

[6] http://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/2010-wbi-national-survey/

[7] http://womeninbusiness.about.com/od/sexual-discrimination/a/Witchy-Female-Bosses-The-Taming-Of-The-Shrew.htm