The once-over looks. The passive-aggressive comments. I once witnessed a female employee's underhanded comment about a new, more senior female employee’s fit physique. This type of behavior makes everyone uncomfortable. But how do we tackle gender bias?
According to a recent Employment Law Alliance Poll, of all the bullies in the workplace, more than a third of whom are female, women who are bullies prefer to pick on other females more than 70% of the time. Men on the other hand bully equally. As a business owner with a high female employee ratio, we strive to defeat the stereotypes that plague a female-dominated company culture.
The three main issues of women bullying in the workplace--passive-aggressive behavior, unhealthy competition, and an unwillingness to cooperate--can be successfully overcome by encouraging female staff to defeat the recurring patterns and to understand teamwork as the basis for individual growth.
Here are some ways we tackle these biases at my firm--ways that can help both women and men handle gender bias.
1. Ferret out 'Queens Bees.'
As part of our annual review, we evaluate relationships among employees and their willingness to help each other. We teach employees that no success will come out of backstabbing, gossiping, or intimidating others. As a matter of fact, any "Queen Bee" is quickly transitioned out, no matter how competent she (or he) is. Clique leaders, social influencers and disrespectful staff are not welcome either.
I had a female employee once who exerted quite an influence on other women (she was a social connector). The need to emulate her started to affect other female staff’s performance, and it became such a distraction that we eventually decided to part ways.
2. Focus on team success versus individual call-outs.
In a small business, if an employee fails to succeed at her or his job because she or he fails to cooperate, the inefficiencies generated affect the company as a whole. When there is tension, productivity also decreases due to the time and energy spent coping with snappy attitudes.
How we get around this idea of every woman (or man) for herself (or himself) is to assign a value or grade to mentoring. How an employee does in this category of mentoring affects bonuses and promotions. Since we collaborate in teams, mentoring is part of our employees’ annual goals. When the company succeeds, bonuses, promotions, and perks are a priority. When it doesn’t, they are not. An employee cannot be a solo flier.
3. Be transparent.
We use transparency in communication as a way to safeguard teamwork and harmony. When something goes awry, employees are taught to talk freely to the owners about how the mistake was made, and that includes finding the staff member that was responsible. No one should take blame for another employee's mistake for fear of being shunned or excluded from the group.
While our strong camaraderie makes it difficult to manage these discussions sometimes, we treat incidents with decency and respect, and use each as a learning opportunity. The closeness that we foster helps us avoid future mistakes. This indirectly helps everyone succeed.
As an advocate of women’s rights, I am hopeful to see the day that both women-on-women gender interactions and male-female interactions change. Perhaps we are taught as girls that since few climb up the corporate ladder, it’s a dog eat dog world. Perhaps the judgment-ridden approach of our gender is a direct result of past male discrimination. Until we are able to change the way we view other women’s successes, we won't be able to close the gender gap or break that final glass ceiling.