Women experience rudeness at work most frequently from other women, study finds

TUCSON, Ariz. — Queen bees of the human type. When it comes to office politics, which gender stings females most often? And which females are more likely to be victims of workplace rudeness? It turns out women feel disrespected in the office most frequently — by other women, a new study finds.

The research, conducted at the University of Arizona, aimed to find out who stirs up the most buzz in the office hive.

Women looking at computer in office
A new study finds that women experience rudeness in the office most frequently from other women, and that those who often find themselves battling queen bees at work are more likely to look for a new job.

“Studies show women report more incivility experiences overall than men, but we wanted to find out who was targeting women with rude remarks,” explains Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor of management and organizations, in a university release.

Researchers embarked on three studies to determine which gender practiced the most workplace rudeness. Full-time workers, both men and women, answered questions about work incivility they had experienced in the last month. To determine gender differences, participants went through each set of questions twice, once for male coworkers and once for female coworkers. Participants were questioned about such situations as being put down or patronized by a coworker, feeling belittled or the object of derogatory remarks, being overlooked in a meeting or being addressed in an unprofessional way.

“Across the three studies, we found consistent evidence that women reported higher levels of incivility from other women than their male counterparts,” says Gabriel. “In other words, women are ruder to each other than they are to men, or than men are to women.

“This isn’t to say men were off the hook or they weren’t engaging in these behaviors,” she adds. “But when we compared the average levels of incivility reported, female-instigated incivility was reported more often than male-instigated incivility by women in our three studies.”

Researchers also had participants fill out personality and behavior profiles to see whether there might be other reasons for the disrespectful treatment. The results showed that the more assertive and outside gender norms a woman was, the more likely she was to be a target of queen bees.

For men, it was a different story. Researchers found that when men were assertive and warm,  somewhat atypical for male behavior, they were less likely to be targets of male-originated rudeness. Researchers say this suggests that men get something of a social credit for deviating slightly from gender stereotypes, whereas women risk ridicule for stepping outside traditional female stereotypes.

Researchers say this study says a lot about both individual employees as well as organizational mindset. Companies need to be aware that female employees dealing with queen bees are more likely to move on to another employer. It is estimated that such incivility costs organizations in the neighborhood of $14,000 per employee. That is a pretty sizeable problem.

The authors say these findings offer companies an important starting point from which to launch a reexamination of their cultures. “Companies should be asking, ‘What kinds of interventions can be put in place to really shift the narrative and reframe it?'” says Gabriel.

“Making workplace interactions more positive and supportive for employees can go a long way toward creating a more positive, healthier environment that helps sustain the company in the long run. Organizations should make sure they also send signals that the ideas and opinions of all employees are valued, and that supporting others is crucial for business success — that is, acting assertively should not be viewed negatively, but as a positive way for employees to voice concerns and speak up.”

The study’s findings are published in an the April 2018 edition of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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About the Author

Terra Marquette

Terra is a Denver-area freelance writer, editor and researcher. In her free time, she creates playlists for every mood.

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