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Workplace Incivility Against Women Is Getting Out of Hand

woman of color silently hears coworkers gossip in distance

Women tend to deal with myriad obstacles on their path to growing their careers. Several reports show that workplace incivility is one of those challenges.

A 2023 report by McKinsey & Company found that women are twice as likely as men to be interrupted in the workplace, twice as likely to receive comments about their emotional state and 1.5 times more likely to see a colleague take credit for their work.

Additional research indicates that long-held gender stereotypes fuel incivility against women.

“For women specifically, incivility may exacerbate existing challenges related to gender discrimination, unequal treatment and lack of representation in leadership roles,” said Carol Howley, chief marketing officer at London-based marketing firm Exclaimer.

A separate report showed that women reported experiencing more incivility from other women at work than from their male colleagues. Women who were targeted by female colleagues often reported:

  • Being addressed in unprofessional terms.
  • Having derogatory comments directed toward them.
  • Being put down in a condescending way.
  • Being ignored or excluded from professional camaraderie.

“This is not to say that men weren’t acting uncivilly,” lead author Allison S. Gabriel wrote in Harvard Business Review. “Rather, the frequency was higher between women and their female counterparts.”

Consequences of Incivility

A recent study found that incivility is particularly problematic in law enforcement, where female police officers reported “significantly higher” levels of workplace incivility than male officers. Female officers said incivility contributed to their emotional exhaustion and made them more likely to leave the organization.

Gabriel’s study also indicated that women who dealt with incivility reported having greater intentions of quitting their job as well as lower job satisfaction and levels of vitality. Other reports show that workplace incivility can result in reduced:

  • Employee motivation.
  • Productivity.
  • Commitment to an employer.

Recent research by SHRM revealed that employees who rate their workplace as uncivil are more than three times as likely to express job dissatisfaction (28 percent) and more than twice as likely to consider leaving their job in the next year (38 percent).

“When individuals experience disrespectful behavior, rudeness, or incivility in the workplace, it can lead to feelings of disempowerment, stress, anxiety and decreased job satisfaction,” Howley said. “For women specifically, incivility may exacerbate existing challenges related to gender discrimination, unequal treatment, and lack of representation in leadership roles.”

[SHRM Online: Workplace Incivility Is More Common Than You Think]

Creating a Healthier Workplace for Women

Recognizing and celebrating women for their achievements promotes a positive culture where women can work together instead of competing with one another, according to Janeen Speer, chief people officer at software company Benevity in Calgary, Alberta.

“Regardless of how you recognize achievements, whether through internal communication channels, peer recognition or awards, rewarding employees for their contributions is one of the most important ways to support women at your workplace and be an ally,” she said.

Speer added that ensuring employees of all backgrounds and roles have a way to share feedback, including through employee surveys, and report incivility when it does arise is crucial to “building a culture of trust and respect.”

Carina Cortez, chief people officer at software company Cornerstone OnDemand in Santa Monica, Calif., said that establishing a zero-tolerance harassment policy, promptly addressing complaints and ensuring HR knows can help reduce workplace hostility against women.

She also noted that certain workplace programs, such as women-led employee resource groups, can provide a safe space to hash out workplace concerns and open the door for hard conversations, including those involving incivility.

“Without an understanding of unique workplace challenges, women’s professional competence is quick to be questioned, leading to unfair criticism,” Cortez said.

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, called civility “inclusion in action” and something that must be carried out in daily workplace interactions during the March 7 launch of SHRM’s “1 Million Civil Conversations” campaign.

“Looking forward, the future of work hinges on collaboration, ideation and innovation,” he explained, “with civility serving as the indispensable catalyst for bridging discord and empowering workforce synergy.”

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