Women in the Workplace: Just Who is Oppressing Whom?

For nearly half a century now we have been allowing the feminist version of events to inform our social consciousness. The accepted wisdom is that women have long been relegated to second-class citizenship, especially in the workplace. The feminists have complained long and hard about how difficult it is for women to advance in the workplace, to break through the glass ceiling.

Now there of course is some truth to all this, and most of us are grateful to see genuinely unjust and discriminatory practices being overcome. But ideology and rhetoric have a way of being challenged by reality. While there certainly have been chauvinistic offices and workplaces, the feminist belief in the glass ceiling looks like it needs to be challenged somewhat.

A news item in the December 31, 2006 UK Sunday Times makes for revealing reading. A very interesting study has been conducted in Europe, the results of which have just been made public. Men, it seems, are not really the villains here. Instead, women appear to be the main opponents of the advancement of women.

Entitled, “Office queen bees hold back women’s careers,” the two authors, Roger Dobson and Will Iredale, report on a study of over 700 women which found that “female rivalry in the workplace may sometimes be as important as sexism in holding back women’s careers.”

The article begins this way: “Forget ‘jobs for the boys’. Women bosses are significantly more likely than men to discriminate against female employees, research has suggested. The study found that when presented with applications for promotion, women were more likely than men to assess the female candidate as less qualified than the male one. They were also prone to mark down women’s prospects for promotion and to assess them as more controlling than men in their management style.”

The article continues, “‘Female and older participants showed more prejudice against the (idea of a) female leader than did male and younger participants,’ said Rocio Garcia-Retamero, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and lead author of the report.”

One female worker put it this way: “It is called the ‘queen bee syndrome’. I have seen women in managerial positions discriminating against other women, possibly because they like to be the only female manager or woman in the workplace.”

Continues the article: “Recent cases that have illustrated this problem include that of Helen Green, 36, a Deutsche Bank employee from London. In August she was awarded nearly £800,000 in damages after two years of bullying by four female colleagues that eventually led to a nervous breakdown.”

The study found that “Female participants had a stronger tendency than male participants to view the female candidates as less qualified than the male candidate . . . they also thought that the female candidate would fare worse in the future in her job than the male candidate.”

Like many radical social movements, feminism has had elements of truth which were pushed to unhelpful extremes. Yes there has been, and is, sexism, but it is not all one-way traffic. And yes, many men treat women poorly, but so do some women, in their treatment of both men and other women. This study helps to bring just a bit of balance to what has often become a one-sided debate.


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