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Gossip, Exclusion, Competition, and Spite: A Look Below the Glass Ceiling at Female-to-Female Communication Habits in the Workplace

Brownlee, Katelyn E
Committee Members: 
Dr. Michelle Violanti
May 2013

Abstract:  The glass ceiling is defined as the impenetrable force that excludes women and minorities from informal and formal social networks that provide access to executive positions (Callahan & Tomaszewski, 2007). There are many factors that contribute to the enduring nature of the glass ceiling such as the socialization of women and/or the patriarchal nature of the workforce, but research is still lagging with respect to understanding how women impact and experience one another within the workplace and how that contributes to their overall experience and drive to progress upwardly (Callahan & Tomaszewski, 2007; Fine & Buzzanell, 2000; Kanter, 1977a). Using a grounded theory qualitative study, this research suggests that indirect social aggression is a part of the organizational experience, in particular that gossip is a cultural norm of female subgroups and that the general complacency toward indirect social aggression between women may be connected to the lack of upward progression by this group. Additionally, this research suggests that the unrealistic expectations women have regarding their office relationships with other women is connected to increased conflict and instances of indirect social aggression. This study recommends that the way to manage and focus organizational gossip is by educating managers on how to intervene in negative gossip cycles in the office and create opportunities for female employees to express their concern in arenas that do not threaten their social status. Secondly, this study also recommends that future scholars and female academics endorse the development of female-centric courses that teach women how to be successful in their careers and in managing the tensions that exist within their office relationships.