Why Women Bully (and What We Can Do About It)

By Dr. Megan Allen, co-founder of The Sphere and founder/owner of The Community Classroom

I’ve been bullied in some way, shape, or fashion for much of my life. 

As a child, it was because of my bright orange hair. I can still hear the echoes of “carrot top, carrot top” following me around on the playground. In middle school, it was cliques and mean girls. You know, the Regina George type? I thought that in my adult life, it would subside, right? But in a society where we have public figures openly bullying one another on the nightly news and social media, this isn’t the case. And even in a time when we are all chanting “smash the patriarchy” regularly, most of the bullying we experience as women is from other women.


Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was famous for saying “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” As a gender, we already face a slew of barriers crafted by society. It’s tough enough already to jump those hurdles without skinning our knees. So we must band together to lift each other up, right? 

Unfortunately, that’s a bit of a utopian viewpoint (and this is coming from a self-confessed Pollyanna). According to a study from The Workplace Bullying Institute, women are bullied up to 80 percent of the time by other women

So why is this? And more importantly, what can we do about it?


  1. Understand what’s behind it. 
    1. Toxic masculinity. Women currently run just about 10% of the Fortune 500 Companies, which is currently an all-time high. But let’s be real-it’s still just 10% and that leaves tons of room for growth. Many women who make it to the top level of power and leadership start to emulate masculine qualities and bury those they think are “too feminine.” They think they must do this to remain where they are, in the world of men. This includes talking over other women, downplaying the work of other women, and other characteristics of toxic masculinity.
    2. Internalized misogyny. Because of the way we have been raised as women in a society that doesn’t always respect women, we may begin to put other women down. We have internalized misogyny (the hatred of women) and don’t realize it and may even be actualizing how we treat other women.
    3. Not enough seats at the table. The Fortune 500 statistic above speaks for itself. As women, we have been shaped by this deficit of leadership positions to compete against one another. To knock each other down instead of collaborate, to interact with each other embracing a Darwinistic survival of the fittest mentality.
    4. Generational bullying. Someone who has been bullied can go one of two ways as a leader, and one of those ways is inadvertently becoming a bully themselves.
  2. Talk about it.

    As of now, women-bullying-women is such a taboo topic. Which normalizes bad behavior and makes us think “That’s just the way things are.” If we talk about it, we can take control of the narrative. I’m not talking about shouting it from the rooftops or posting it online, I’m talking about having open and honest conversations with peers and colleagues about it. Let’s take control of the topic versus letting it shape “how things are.”Let’s normalize talking about it and brainstorming solutions. Plus not talking about it can perpetuate the bullying.

  3. Know how to tackle it.

    There are several strategies to apply with a bully—I take these straight from the 4th-grade classroom when I was a public school teacher. 

    1. Ignore the bullying and hold your head up high. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a toll on you (of course it does, it weighs heavy).  But don’t engage—the bully is most likely looking for a reaction. And don’t let things escalate.
    2. Call it what it is and ask the bully to stop. Full disclosure: This tactic doesn’t always work and can sometimes instigate the bully. 
    3. Make sure to document all interactions with the bully—log everything, take and file screenshots, and do all of this on a personal computer and not at work in case this is workplace-related bullying. If you are going to HR (or heaven forbid you need an attorney), you’ll have documentation.
  4. Don’t let it get in your head.

    Gaslighting is a close companion to bullying. Someone’s words can get in your head and your heart and cause you to not believe in yourself. Don’t let that happen. Surround yourself with those who can remind you of your skills, strengths, and the truth of your character. Build up your team of confidants and let them help you prevent the bullying words or actions from infiltrating your head.

  5. Do better ourselves as women.

    Honestly, I don’t even know what to write here. It’s not that I’m throwing shade on our gender, I  just want to acknowledge how the world has shaped us and created a culture of finger-pointing and animosity versus communities of kindness. So how do we do better? I’m hoping writing this blog post, naming it, and starting conversations is the first step.

Want to get in on the conversation? Join me and two other panelists at the 3rd Annual Pioneer Valley Conference for Women on May 9th. Our panel conversation details are below: 



DESCRIPTION:  Explore the challenges facing women leaders, including Queen Bee Syndrome, Tall Poppy Syndrome, and the impact of epigenetics on leadership roles. Uncover strategies for collaboration, resilience, and self-empowerment amidst societal and organizational pressures. Gain insights from experts, share stories, and learn strategies for empowerment and resilience.


  • Discover practical strategies for fostering collaboration, overcoming self-doubt, and creating inclusive environments.
  • Understand the underlying causes of Queen Bee Syndrome and Tall Poppy Syndrome.
  • Learn how epigenetics influences leadership capabilities and stress responses.

PANELISTS: Dawn Creighton, Megan Allen, EdD, Julie DeLucca-Collins



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