Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sibling Rivalry at Work

A number of discussions I've had with technical women recently has gotten me thinking about the possibility that male and female workers tend to fall back on old family habits and engage in sibling rivalry. We get a "script" as youngsters, and sometimes are unable to cut loose from it. When you put men and women together in work places, the script can become toxic, especially if women take things personally and men deny that anything is happening under the surface.

If you read between the lines in some of the things that men and women say at work, you hear:
  • MOM! She messed with my stuff again!
  • Why does he get more allowance than me. It's UNFAIR!
  • Why does Dad pay more attention to him than me?
  • I want the front seat! Why does she always get the front seat?
  • Don't touch my toys!
  • Look how strong I am. I'm superman! Pummel, pummel, pummel.
  • It's not fair. She's getting special treatment 'cause she's a girl.
  • I got all A's on my report card. What did you get? Let me see your report card.
  • I'm going to do way better than you in soccer. You're a girl. You can't kick a ball.
  • Girls can't do that. Give it to me. I'll do it.
  • Boys are stinky and stupid. 
  • etc.
If there is some of this going on, what can we do about it? Here are a few remedies I came up with, especially for women (who bear the brunt of workplace nastiness):
  • Recognize the problem. The first step to solving a problem is to recognize that there is a problem. 
  • Recognize when a male colleague is acting bullish or acting out of jealousy, and stay calm.
  • Recognize when you are starting to focus more on the unfairness and less on the work. 
  • Refuse to get pulled into the negativity, jealousy, competitiveness, the undercurrent of sibling rivalry. 
  • Keep it light. Make jokes. If a guy denounces you for touching his code, try saying with a smile, "you sound like my little brother when he yelled at me for touching his things." 
  • If a coworker blows his own horn a lot, start blowing yours too!
  • Get good at distinguishing annoying behavior from illegal behavior (sexual harassment and lack of equal opportunity employment). 
  • Report any illegal behavior (after you document it well). 
  • Roll with the punches when there's annoying behavior, (unless it gets unbearable; then start circulating your resume).
  • Realize that you may never get the recognition that you crave. It will have to come from within. 
  • STAY STRONG. Grow a backbone if you don't already have one! If your brother tried to beat you up when you were a kid, you didn't just crumple, right? You fought back!
  • Stay flexible and agile. This doesn't mean being a wimp. The best fighters are not only strong; they are also flexible and agile.
  • On the other hand, try not to focus too much on fighting. 
  • Focus on your goals, your work, your peace of mind. 
  • Remember what Aldous Huxley said, "There's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self."
Growing up, I was the middle child in a family of 5 girls and 2 boys. I have a twin brother. My twin brother was very "special", talented, smart, dramatic. He got lots of attention. My younger brother is a genius (he really is). Now the universe is putting me in situations over and over again where I work with "brothers" who are special, while I'm often overlooked. Until I get the lessons, I think I will find myself returning to the childhood scripts. 

Thoughts, comments? Am I on to something? Am I brushing aside the legitimate, painful, workplace nastiness that many women face everyday at work? Am I overstating the undercurrent of sibling rivalry at work? Am I writing this blog to seek recognition that I'm clever and funny, recognition that I never got as a child, perhaps because I'm not really very clever or funny? :-)

1 comment:

  1. Is it accurate that women bear the brunt of workplace nastiness, or is it possibly observer bias? (lived experience of commenter: middle child, only male).