Easing Women's Bullying: The Global and Growing Conversation for Good

Over the past year, I invited people to pull up a chair--or a Facebook page--and talk about a topic we often avoid and keep in the shadows: how women sometimes bully, shun, and block other women. And how we can better support each other, in and out of the workplace.

Kudos to the thousands--on every continent--who accepted that invitation in the wake of my 2015 book, Mending the Sisterhood & Ending Women's Bullying. I sincerely thank each one of you.

Thankfully, this long-taboo topic of women vs. women bullying--and how we can transform it--is losing its shadow.

Many rising voices are celebrating the sisterhood of women as a force for good in the world. At my book gatherings and events, many shared that this women-for-women conversation is empowering and long overdue.

"It's so healing to talk about something (easing women's conflicts) we never have an opportunity to talk about," a university professor said.

"This is important. Let's keep talking, because if we stop, nothing will change," a millennial woman said.

It's "a great thing," a top actress emailed.

But still often unwilling to come to the table on this conversation? Far too many journalists and workplace and women's leaders.

From my experience, many often ignore, downplay, or totally dismiss women-on-women bullying, which research shows drains our health, productivity, top talent retention, parenting, and earning power. Airing this topic appears to shake some to their core.

Over two years, as I wrote and spoke about my book, I appealed to more than 200 journalists and more than 350 workplace, human resources, women's, and conference leaders across the country to look at this issue.

I underscored that leading women, from small business owners to Wall Street executives, TV personalities to mommy bloggers--what a force of nature they are!--are strapping on some shiny shoes to step into this discussion.

I shared that thousands, from California to Calcutta, responded to my articles, "7 Ways Women Can Lift Up, Not Tear Each Other Down," http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-skog/seven-ways-women-can-lift-up-not-tear-each-other-down_b_6456558.html and "Why Bullying Still Happens Between Women (and how we can put a stop to it.) http://hellogiggles.com/bullying-happens-between-women/

In the end, U.S. News & World Report, The Chicago Tribune, and some Colorado magazines did great articles. Some powerhouse workshop and conference leaders passionately put this topic on their agendas.

But many others clearly didn't acknowledge this issue as a press, workplace, or conference priority.

"I just don't see the story here," said a seasoned business editor at one of the largest news organizations.

"This story isn't positive enough for us," a top print reporter said. "We're not interested," said most women's magazines editors.

Ironically, a national business journalist said she empathized deeply, but had to stay silent. Because she was writing about her own still-blistering, bullying experience with a female colleague.

And what about the hundreds of workplace, women's, and conference leaders to whom I reached out? Some said they really wanted--needed--to explore this issue to reach higher ground at their organizations or women's groups--but weren't supported by their colleagues and friends.

A sampling of other women's responses:

A conference leader: "No one wants to hear what you have to say." Thankfully, more than 350 women did, and we had an inspiring, empowering discussion.

A small business owner: "Just stop talking about this, and it will go away."

A nationally known women's advancement leader: "The idea of women being mean or not supporting each other is just "a trope." My writing? "Sets my teeth on edge."

A nonprofit manager: "No, your facts are wrong. Women never bully women. Only men do that."

Absolutely, men must be held accountable for their abuse, as I write in my book. But women make up about 30 percent of workplace bullies and bully other women 68 percent of the time, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. A UK survey of 25,000 women in 2014 found that the most common form of bullying experienced by women at work is harassment by other women.

More responses:
A national sorority leader said she was "disturbed" at my writing that women sometimes "war" with other women. That never happens among sorority women, she said.

An HR leader: "This topic is not an HR issue."

A women's movement leader: "We will never accept your premise or support your work."

Thankfully, incredible women and experts featured in or interviewed for my book, family, friends, and colleagues, and Wonder Women organizations powerfully shone a light on this conversation online and in gatherings including: Kappa Delta Sorority, Ellevate, Leadership Investment, Emerging Women, CT Working Moms, Boulder Business and Professional Women, Awakening Women Institute, Kind Women, Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce, Colorado State University, Women Employed, Tribe of Women, Girlfriendology, Mom Owned Business Association, SITS Girls, and many more.

I'm also deeply grateful to these women who helped me advance this conversation and for their engaged work in the world: Jennifer Buffett, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Zooey Deschanel, Abigail Disney, Cynda Collins Arsenault, and Jacqueline Novogratz.

And I continue to bow down to the incredible women--and a few strong girls--in Fort Collins, Colorado and beyond, who participated in Unity Day in October, to celebrate the power of women lifting up other women.

Let's all lift up this conversation. The women living a harsh reality on a daily basis are counting on our voices for change. Every week, I continue to hear another account.

"I keep shrinking myself, and shrinking myself, and then shrinking myself some more, until I'm so small I can't be targeted and bullied by her," one woman said, about her painful office environment.

Another woman: "I don't know how long I can take this. The two women I work with feud and yell almost daily and throw stuff at each other. It's getting worse. HR's done nothing yet."

Still another woman: "My boss kept her distance and criticized me frequently. One day, she suddenly asked me to resign for strange reasons. I later found out she had told people visiting our office that I was the receptionist, though I was in a leadership position."

Women are better than this. When women live and lead from our strengths, we are magnificent beyond measure. We nurture, lift up, connect, and love as only women can. We are WOMEN!

As NoVo Foundation Co-President Jennifer Buffett said in endorsing my project: "Women are ushering in a more humane world based on collaboration and partnership, not exploitation or domination... But to rise up and answer the calls of the world, women themselves also need to answer the call to evolve, come together, and help one another succeed, not hold one another back...."

I urge you to join this conversation and make a difference in any way you can.
I ask you to use your voice to rise up and break the silence.
I call to you to make this conversation a priority in your office, conferences, and women's groups.

There have been more than a few days when I wanted to listen to the voices that said, "Stop talking about this issue."

But then I think about how close to the tipping point we are in making epic change for ourselves and the girls around us.

I think about all those women who honored me with their stories. I also think about the women who told me they stepped up to end the acrimony in their offices, and now were on fire with meaning and purpose again.

I think about all these women--and the men who also spoke out this past year. And then I know that it's not time to go silent. It never will be. Ever again.

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