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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4 Replies to “Women in the Workplace: Just Who is Oppressing Whom?”

  1. Its like the drunk who was staggering home after a night out. He fell into the gutter on the left of the road and he got all wet. He got up determined not to fall again, got as far away from the left gutter…. that is untill he fell into the right gutter.

    There is definatly a positive and truthful element to the feminist movement, but like any movement there are librals, moderates and extremeists. I think in many ways the feminist movement has gone way to far to the detriment of the concept of manhood and womanhood.

    And i think the article is right – much of the problem is the misplace of blame. The feminist might do better to look in the miror before she points her finger.

    Remove the blank from your own eye first, then you can see clearly enought to remove the splinter from your friend’s eye.

    Joshua Ferrara

  2. Well done Bill!

    We need to remember that there are many conflicting issues when trying to advocate equality of opportunity.

    I am always personally intrigued to observe people’s interactions in a workplace where it is obvious that some play by different “rules” to others.

    It has reminded me that as fresh undergraduates back in a famous UK university 20 years ago, myself and a couple of friends went off to join the women’s advocacy group (amonmgst other clubs/societies) and where promptly shown the door because we were male and therefore our support was not welcome.

    I might add that the two best managers I ever had in the workplace were women.

    Andrew Lake

  3. Where there are humans there is discrimination.

    I have experienced some very controlling women in managerial positions, and as a generalisation their insecurities tend to affect their management ability more than with men.

    I have also seen some extremely talented women who found it more difficult to get where they are because of their sex, but in general the spotlight has gone off women and they are accepted for what they bring to the workplace.

    Also workplace influencers, the core band of people who set the tone and culture of a company, are more often women than men because of their more developed social peer pressure techniques. I personally have found that women were the ones that controlled the culture of the workplace groups I was part of, and made it enjoyable or distasteful to work at each particular company, and in each case there was a definite pecking order among the women not necessarily determined by rank within the company.

    One day we’ll learn that women and men are actually different and there’s no such thing as absolute equality since we have different parts to play, with different core drives and motivations. The sooner we get away from warring between the sexes to looking to work to our strengths the better.
    Garth Penglase

  4. This is a very balanced and welcome comment on most of the workplaces I have experienced. Thank you. I work in an environment where the girls set the culture and place very subtle but unrelenting pressure on those female members of staff who are a bit individual or who don’t follow the crowd and these individuals either leave or sink into the background. However my male boss who has great integrity and is aware that everyone has something to offer or a niche to fill, very gently overrides that culture and the quiet sneering of the girls and provides everyone with an opportunity to contribute as well as to advance in accordance with their skills. In some ways the girls maintain a sort of social stability and predictability and my male boss lifts people up and over that barrier without fear of social exclusion. At our best, men and women are complimentary and there are myriad ways in which we can work together. But sometimes those girls can be very mean!!
    Melanie Anson

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