Last week there were two major studies showing that it is the behavior of women at work towards other women that is keeping that glass ceiling so firmly intact. The professional world has a bad case of the ‘Mean Girls.’ Both of the studies found that women tend to be more threatened and jealous of other women in the workplace for various reasons. This results in women who are in positions of power not reaching out to aspiring women and instead pulling up the ladder behind them. We talked to some real professional women who have experienced this kind of hostility from their female colleagues.
Michelle Duguid, PhD, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Olin Business School and author of “Female Tokens in High-prestige Work Groups: Catalysts or Inhibitors of Group Diversification?” identifies two forms of value threat that she thinks affect the behavior of female tokens in high-status work groups in the context of promotion and selection — competitive threat and collective threat.
“Competitive threat is the fear that a highly qualified female candidate might be more qualified, competent or accepted than you are,” Duguid says.“Women also might be concerned about bringing in another woman with lower qualifications, who could reinforce negative stereotypes about women and impact others’ impressions of them. This is collective threat.”
Here is an example of value threat from Maura Stone:
“In 1977, I was in my first official job as executive secretary in Philip Morris International due to my fluency in French and Italian. My boss was Regional Coordinator for Europe/Middle East and Africa. Across from me sat my colleague, executive secretary for the Regional Coordinator of Asia. She always extolled the virtues of her boss, who was one of the first female MBAs from Ivy League.
At that time, I was considering entering an MBA program. “Talk to Marcia! She’s an inspiration!” my friend said. I made an appointment and sat down with Marcia and told her how her secretary thinks the world of her. “Do you have any advice to impart? I’m considering going to night school to get my MBA.”
Marcia looked down her nose at me. I’ll never forget what she said, “I think you should be happy where you are.”
Evidently, supporting someone who has no intentions of moving up in the business world was easy enough. But to lend support to a woman who did, well, that was a threat!
I got that MBA – it took me five years at night. And I moved up the food chain with a mostly successful career in banking. And now, attritioned from Wall Street, I’m making my way through publishing my novels. But I won’t solicit advice. I’ll listen, but won’t solicit. For Marcia taught me a lesson, one I’ll never forget. And my experiences since then supported my first impression.”