“Workplace bullies and the academy”

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Historiann has an interesting post with this title here. She notes that “women victimizing women” surfaces as a problem. She also trenchantly observes that academics can work around bullies easier than people in other occupational environments, writing:

The only exception to this is if your bully happens to be someone of importance in your field–but this is probably unusual: by definition, people who are important in their field spend their time writing books, working with students, and hobnobbing at conferences with other people important in their field. In general, they don’t have the time, let alone the inclination, to try to mess with someone else’s career. In my experience, the bullies weren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, to put it charitably. They weren’t terribly productive scholars or successful teachers, which is probably why they felt so intimidated by smart young things who were clearly going places. So, they chose to make their post-tenure careers as hall monitors rather than as scholars. [Emphasis added.]

My own experiences with female bosses and “superiors” have been very positive. In my view most of the (small number of) women who entered law teaching in the 1970s did a fantastic job of bringing new women into the field, and mentoring them. That’s the main reason the number of women law professors increased as much as it did. Sure we have miles to go before we reach anything approaching parity in the profession, but it was primarily the efforts of women law professors that got a lot of us in the door, as well as through the tenure slog. To this day, when I need help or advice, the law profs I turn to and whom I most trust, as both friends and mentors, are mostly women. Law may be different than other fields in this regard. I’m glad it was for me, anyway.

Historiann’s conclusion that the worst bullies on a faculty tend to be the underachieving losers, however, sounds spot on to me.

–Ann Bartow

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0 Responses to “Workplace bullies and the academy”

  1. Historiann says:

    Ann–thanks for adding comments about your experiences. That’s been my experience too with most of my senior female colleagues across at least three generations of scholars, women whose ages now range from 44 to 78! But, as I wrote, I’ve known a few women bullies, too. I was naive until I entered the workplace about the extent to which women are implicated in enforcing sexist hierarchies and expectations. They were rewarded for their work–but not as much as they would have been had they just minded their own business and did their own damn scholarship and teaching. They earned their Hall Monitor badges for life, that’s for sure!

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    Sadly, it’s true, there are women bullies in academia. But hopefully we’ve got them outnumbered :>)

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for the post and comments.

    My experience in this area has been extensive. Some recommendations:
    Wise Up!
    1. There have always been bullies and always will be. They come in all sizes, shapes and levels of the academic totem pole. That doesn’t mean that you have to accept it. Some bullies are very bright. Many are what I call”stealth bullies.” They’re covert, sneaky, manipulative, critical, controlling, verbally abuses, emotionally intimidating and backstabbing with a smile.
    2. Use legal protection if you can, but don’t count on it. Most of the bullying passes under the legal radar. And laws still have to be applied by people. Many people won’t. Be grateful when you get help, but don’t count on it and don’t be stopped if you’re on your own.
    3. Change the discussion from”why bullies do it and the nuances of how,”into a discussion of how to stop bullies in their tracks.
    4. Learn to fight; teach your friends and children to deal with the real world. You won’t win every fight, but when you fight back you’ll stop a higher percentage of bullies. You will need to be brave, courageous, determined, persevering and resilient.
    5. Recognize and label bullies as bullies. If you have any doubt, learn the early warning signs. Recognizing and labeling them will reinforce your identification of who’s the problem – they are.
    6. Recognizing and labeling can take you out of”helpless, victim mentality.” Stop asking,”What did I do wrong”or”What did I do to deserve it.” A bully is a bully is a bully.
    7. Ignore the idea of,”Don’t stoop to their level.” Do stoop to using language they understand. Raise the stakes on them if you can.
    8. Administrators are just like principals of elementary, junior high, middle and high schools. Some act, but many look the other way; they tolerate, condone, protect or encourage bullies. You will have to force those administrators to act.

    Stand up!
    1. Stop analyzing all the different forms of bullying, stop examining statistics, stop analyzing why they do it. You know more than enough already. Just look at the comments here and in the original New York Times article. Don’t let predators get you.
    2. Act to protect and defend yourself and your friends and colleagues in your specific situation. Act as rapidly as you can; don’t wait until you have absolute proof. Bullies don’t take passivity (begging, pleading, minimizing, ignoring) as kindness, caring or you taking the high moral ground. Bullies take passivity as an invitation to hit you harder.
    3. Shine a light on it. Get allies; gang up on bullies. Isolate them if you can. Undermine their position and power.
    4. Don’t react with emotional outbursts; stay professional. Get evidence and document. Look for loss of productivity (decreasing publications, grants and awards, or increasing turnover). Look for”smoking guns.” If the bully has power, look to increase your leverage. Administrators hate publicity and scandal. Use their fear as leverage.
    5. Don’t get sucked into a rehabilitation model. Stop bullies first. Kick them off your island or isolate them in a very tiny room with other bullies. Then you can become their therapist (if that’s what you get paid for).
    6. Don’t stay in a hostile workplace you can’t change. Be prepared to leave and make your exit interview public.

    I see more bullies in academia, government offices, non-profits and public service organizations.

    Disclosure: Since I left academia (after about 23 years), I’ve become a coach and consultant, and have written articles and books, and produced CDs about stopping bullies at work and in personal life. My web site and blog are at: http://www.BulliesBeGone.com.

    Good luck,