By: Pat Heim, PhD. | Tammy Hughes | Latitia S. Lattanzio, PhD, NCSP

Jill’s Dilemma

I work on a marketing team at a large consumer goods company with five other women. I’m new to the team and quite young. In fact, this is my first job out of college. The other five team members are much more seasoned than I and have been at the company for many years.

When it’s time to collaborate as a team, my colleagues never seem to support my ideas. They’ve implied that I’m the baby of the group, yet they don’t treat me with any bit of nurturing. I truly believe they think I have nothing to offer. Whenever I do offer a suggestion, I’ve caught some of them rolling their eyes, and they even cup their hands to whisper to one another.  They always say, “that’s not a well thought out idea” or “that would never work around here.” The atmosphere is cold towards me and almost toxic. I feel like these adult women take me back to the discomforts of junior high. I didn’t experience anything like this in my work internships, but as I think back, I mostly worked on teams of men.

We have serious marketing challenges around here, and I feel qualified to help tackle them.  But my team seems more interested in their cliques and territory. Their behavior suggests that they’re hung up on generational biases. It’s almost as if they’ve chosen their queen bee and will do anything to keep her happy. It’s frustrating me and downright exhausting to have to play these childish games at work.  I never feel like I can win.

The Problem

A major rule in the female culture relates to power: how it is used and perceived. Sadly, the Power Dead-Even Rule, which describes the rule difference in the female culture, can turn ugly and unhealthy. The nature of female relationships seems to lend itself to being one of two extremes, extremely exclusive or extremely inclusive.

Any female who was newly inserted into this team would likely be excluded by the already cohesive group of team members; however, because she is both young and a female, this team is relentless. Jill becomes an easy target for bullying and out-casting because she doesn’t stick up for herself nor does she have an alliance in the group.


The Tips for Jill: 
  • Don’t be discouraged or second guess your competence. Understand that while the women’s aggressive behavior is intended to damage your self-esteem, their behaviors are not rooted in any actual shortcomings on your part.  Keep in mind that the others are driven by their desires to exert control.
  • Look for ways to be supportive of the team members that present good ideas.  Try to fight the impulse to want to shoot down their “good” ideas just because you want to get even or settle the score.
  • Try to view the other women as team members versus enemies.  Some of the best alliances have been forged from gnarly relationship beginnings.
    Be self-reflective.  Look for ways to demonstrate that you are OK with the fact that your ideas aren’t always the best. Humility is a great tool for the workplace.
  • Don’t let your frustrations with the circumstances strip you of your self-worth. Be mindful if you start to second guess your thoughts and become more reserved with your ideas.
  • Do everything you can to better understand these female dynamics—the healthy and the unhealthy ones. Awareness could lead to patience and understanding to make it through this difficult transition period with your new team.
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