Debunking the Myth of Workplace ‘Mean Girls’

Mean Girls-Regina George
MEAN GIRLS, Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried, 2004, (c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection
Courtesy of Paramount/Everett Collection

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! A new biography has the scoop on First Lady Melania Trump, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki limits the time her kids spend on the platform, and we hammer a nail in the coffin of the ‘mean girls’ myth. Make the most of your Tuesday!


- Myth of the 'mean girls.' In the gender diversity realm, there are a few myths that simply will not die: that women’s career and lifestyle choices are behind the gender pay gap (in fact, 33% of the pay gap remains unexplained even when controlling for job, education, and experience); that women’s hesitancy to ask for more money explains their disproportionately low pay (women actually ask for raises as much as men do, but get them less often), and this whopper: that women are, by default, mean to other women in the workplace. 

So it was with great pleasure that I devoured this HBR piece titled, "The Persistent Myth of Female Office Rivalries," savoring its no-bones-about-it conclusion: “We could find no empirical evidence supporting the notion that women are more mean-spirited, antagonistic, or untrustworthy in dealing with other women than men are in dealing with other men.”

The idea that women’s gender factors into their collegial relationships with other women is referenced all too often, all too casually—men tease women about their “catfights” or a woman surmises that a female colleague is ‘out to get’ her—as if it’s gospel truth. 

“The problem with all such claims is that they are simply not true,” write Andrea Kramer and Alton Harris, the married couple—both lawyers—that authored the piece. The authors admit that some women may be "genuinely unpleasant, unfriendly, and adversarial," but "there are not enough 'mean girls' in the workplace to justify painting all women with this brush." The clever title of their book, It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace, hints at what’s really behind this misguided belief. 

There are actually two culprits: Affinity bias—people’s preference to associate with and rally behind people who are like them (a.k.a. men favoring other men)—and gender bias. The two forces “work in tandem to make women’s same-gender workplace relationships difficult because they limit the number of positions for women at leadership tables, thereby forcing the people vying for those spots into direct competition with one another,” the authors write. What’s more, the biases encourage women to assume more masculine management styles to more easily relate to “the male in-group” and set themselves apart from their female co-workers. “These dynamics can foster antagonism between women, which is then often wrongly attributed to their inherent nature, rather than to workplace circumstances,” according to the authors. 

The article is a succinct explanation of why this myth is just that. But consider the expansive ramifications of the falsehood: it has long masked institutional inequalities and arguably given women license to form workplace rivalries. As the piece makes clear, women are not predisposed to dislike one another, but we do all have a common enemy: the workplace status quo. 

Claire Zillman

Today's Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe


- Huawei 'helplessness.' Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested on fraud charges one year ago, wrote a letter describing her year in detention. She says she has felt "moments of fear, pain, disappointment, helplessness, torment, and struggle" as she has been stuck in Vancouver, appearing in court and living in a seven-bedroom mansion. Her father, Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei, meanwhile, says that she "should be proud to have been caught in this situation."  

- Free, Melania. First Lady Melania Trump revealed her annual White House Christmas decorations yesterday, and NYT fashion critic Vanessa Friedman analyzes the meaning behind the photos—which feature the first lady only at a distance and from behind. A new unauthorized biography of Melania, however, has more to add. Free, Melania by CNN reporter Kate Bennett has the scoop on the first lady's relationships with Ivanka and Karen Pence (neither are great) and her recent hospital stay. 

- Dating app dangers. On the dating platform Match—which requires a paid subscription—users are screened to keep out sexual predators. But free apps Tinder, OkCupid, and PlentyofFish don't have the same safety precautions. "There are definitely registered sex offenders on our free products," said a spokesperson for the Match Group, which is led by CEO Mandy Ginsberg. ProPublica/BuzzFeed 

- Turning the Page. For two years, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page has been a favorite target of President Trump. She worked on both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russia probe, and was the subject of a 2017 Trump administration investigation that revealed she'd had an affair. For the first time, Page is speaking out. Why now? The president's "demeaning fake orgasm was really the straw that broke the camel’s back," she says, referring to Trump's appearance at an October rally. Read more of her interview here: The Daily Beast 

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Comic Relief USA hired Oníra Advisors' Lorelei Williams as SVP, grants programs. 


- Georgia GOP. Kelly Loeffler, a GOP donor, co-owner of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream, and CEO of financial services firm Bakkt, will soon join the limited ranks of Republican women in Congress. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp picked Loeffler to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Johnny Isakson. The appointment sets up a clash within the GOP, as Georgia Republicans had pushed for Rep. Doug Collins, a strong ally of President Trump, to be appointed to the Senate. If Loeffler wins the next election for the seat in 2020, she would be the first woman elected to the Senate from Georgia. Associated Press

- Screen time. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki appeared on 60 Minutes on Sunday, where she said that she places limits on the amount of time her kids can spend on—you guessed it—YouTube. "I think too much of anything is not a good thing," Wojcicki said. CBS News

- Ac-T.I.-on. You may remember the outrage when rapper T.I. said in an interview that he accompanies his 18-year-old daughter to the gynecologist to ensure her hymen is "intact." The interview has now led to real action. Two New York state legislators, Sen. Roxanne Persaud and Assemblywoman Michaëlle Solages, introduced bills that would make it illegal for medical providers to perform "virginity examinations." LA Times 

- Investigation and resignation. The prime minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, announced he would resign as he faced growing protests over the possible role of "close associates" in the 2017 murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Muscat's chief of staff and two government ministers, who had all "come under withering criticism and personal attack" in Caruana Galizia's reporting, have all been questioned as part of the investigation into her killing. The journalist's family is calling for an investigation into the prime minister's role. Guardian


How Hipcamp became the Airbnb of the outdoors The New Yorker

Mikaela Shiffrin learns a new way to win: Without her mother as coach New York Times

Prince Andrew accuser Virginia Giuffre asks U.K. public to stand by her Guardian

Riot Games will pay $10 million to settle gender discrimination suit LA Times


"No person ever stood so tall as did Rosa Parks when she sat down."

-Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey at the unveiling of a new statue of Rosa Parks in Montgomery


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