Treating One Female Employee Like Shit Will Make the Rest Feel Bad Too

Illustration for article titled Treating One Female Employee Like Shit Will Make the Rest Feel Bad Too

When your boss is a jerk to your coworkers, it stands to reason that you'll feel shitty too. But a new study shows that you might feel worse if the victim is of the same gender as you — and women react to their coworkers' mistreatment slightly differently than men do.


In a study published in Sex Roles, researchers conducted an online survey of 453 restaurant employees. They found that when men saw male coworkers treated rudely, they tended to feel angry, scared, and anxious — much more so than when the victims were women. Women, meanwhile, felt more fear, rage, and anxiety when the victims were fellow women — and in such situations, they also felt demoralized. The study authors write,

Our results paint a complex picture about the experience of specific negative emotions in response to observed incivility toward same gender co-workers. In some cases, women are more affected (demoralized) and in others, men are more affected (angry, fearful and anxious). In both cases, witnessing incivility towards same gender co-workers can have significant affective consequences for observers.

It's maybe a little sad that we're better at empathizing with same-gender coworkers, but it's not a big surprise. What's a little more interesting is that women, and not men, react to the bashing of their colleagues by getting demoralized. Maybe when women see their fellow ladies mistreated, they're more likely to think, "this is a crappy workplace for women," or even "it's so hard for women in this industry," rather than just "I hate my boss." And at least some of the time, they're right — poor treatment of female workers may reveal a bigger sexism problem. Nobody likes to see other people treated like shit in the workplace — but it may feel a lot worse if it seems like it's part of a pattern.

"I feel your pain..." [SpringerLink]

Image via Brian A Jackson/


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When the VP at my old company told one of the few female employees (and my roommate at the time) during her evaluation that she should wear more dresses, it made me very sad that he was her boss. Everyone knew he was a raging dickbag of misogyny, but it was definitely demoralizing to know how strongly he felt he had the right to assert his misguided views. All the women were really angry at him.