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A thesis on the office bully

alan-with-thesisWhile chatting this morning to meaning’s ‘other’ director, Alan Taylor (see left), I idly asked him about his newly-completed PhD thesis. I didn’t realise that this was going to lead to a most fascinating discussion on office behaviour, which triggered many half-forgotten memories about nasty bits of gossip circulating around my former workplaces, sexual shenanigans from Christmas parties past, and frequent back-stabbings.

I’m not trying to say that I worked in bad places, far from it. In fact, I would say I had rather good employers. It’s just that Alan has discovered in his research that aggressive behaviour and the (ab)use of sexuality is the norm in virtually every organization. So, that boss who has an affair with his secretary, or the bully manager who is hated by some and sucked up to by others are exhibiting this typical testosterone-fuelled behaviour that Alan studied. These ‘super males’ can be male or female, but are more commonly male, and they are the dominant individuals who are running most businesses, charities, universities or probably any organization you care to name.

Even though their unpleasant behavior is counterproductive and leads to bad decisions, their aggression is encouraged, or at least allowed, because a group of willing accomplices usually supports these individuals. Although the majority of us often get very upset about the power-crazed bullies within every organisation, in some ways we are all partly to blame that their behavior is allowed to continue.

As a woman myself, I have long suspected that you have to act like a man to get to a senior position, which is something that I and most other women find so unnatural that it is impossible. So, as Alan has discovered, unless the status quo of organizational behavior changes, most women are going to remain firmly near the bottom of the ladder.

Alan’s work is so interesting, I could probably chat to him all day about it. Alan, we are all proud of you for completing your PhD and becoming Dr Alan. Now that I know just a little bit more about what you have been up to, I am deeply impressed.