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This study sheds light on the difficulties some women report in their work relationships, what we call the shadow side. We argue that both our findings and speculation about structural issues suggest that women's role performance and individual behavior mix with masculine organizational norms in ways that may create a disjunction between feminine friendship expectations and gender roles and masculine organizational norms, and this disjunction leads to tension between some women in the workplace. Keywords: shadow side, feminist standpoint theory, organizational settings, feminine friendship roles, gender roles.
Behind the curtain of sisterhood lies a myriad of emotional tangles that can wreak havoc ... important friendships occur at work and are subject to all the problems of adolescence. (Eichenbaum and Orback, 1987, p. 10)
The statement above reveals an aspect of the "underside" of women's relationships in organizations. A number of writers in the popular press (Briles, 1999; Chesler, 2001; Evans, 2003; Heim, Murphy & Golant, 2001; Mooney, 2005; Tanenbaum, 2002), who have written books with titles such as "Catfight" and "Woman's Inhumanity to Woman," have documented this "underbelly" or difficulty in some women's relationships in the workplace. All these authors agree that women's friendships in the workplace are "vital and widespread" and, often, problematic for women at work (Heim, et al., p. 132). The underside has also garnered some attention within academic circles. Feminist psychotherapists Eichenbaum and Orbach (1987), quoted above, for example, write extensively on feminine dynamics and suggest that this underside of women's friendships at work is deeply confusing to women in the workplace. Eichenbaum and Orbach also describe the impact of these emotional tangles in organizational settings: "Close friendships, work collaborations, and entire organizations can be disrupted by the dynamics between women ... even for women-owned businesses" (pp. 22, 38). Ashcraft and Pacanowsky (1996) also confirmed this observation in their study of a woman-founded and predominantly female business. Their study showed that the narrative of this predominantly female organization reflected the legacy of distorted power relationships as the women adopted a patriarchal framework that devalued feminine modes of action and valorized masculine modes (p. 233).
Most of the attention to the underside, however, continues to emerge from the popular literature. While these works are based largely on anecdotal data, they draw upon fairly large samples of women in the workplace and, as such, provide more insight into what the underside entails. The women in these studies describe feeling betrayed by a woman co-worker, having careers undermined and ruined, and experiencing stressful and unproductive work environments because of these underside dynamics. Briles (1999) after surveying over 1,000 nurses, for example, found that 75% of women surveyed reported being undermined by a woman in the workplace (p. 8). Helm et al. (2001) also report that another study of 1,000 women conducted by the American Management Association found that 95% of the women interviewed felt other women had undermined them at some time in their careers (p. 9).
Writers in the popular literature explain the origins of the underside as emerging from feminine friendship expectations and as the shortcoming of idealized feminine friendship expectations. Moreover and equally significant, these authors suggest that the onus of responsibility for managing and "correcting" the underside is a problem that individual women must solve; the difficulty is a problem of an individual woman's idealized expectations. As a result, the kind of advice given by authors in the popular literature is: "acquire confidence ... confront the saboteur ... learn to be more overt" (Briles, 1999, pp. 271-281). Moreover, Chesler (2001) argues: "it is important that a woman find her own voice ... to put what she wants into words" (p. 479).
As women and feminists, we wanted to better understand this underbelly in women's relationships for several reasons. Most important, we are interested in helping women improve their lives, and the underside seems to be detrimental to many women's lives. Women's careers, for example, are often damaged by underside dynamics, as many of the authors of the popular literature describe. Heim et al. (2001), in fact, discuss how having to focus on "solving taxing interpersonal conflicts" drains energy from job responsibilities, which can also limit careers (p. 11). Briles (1999) also notes the decreased productivity and interpersonal cost that occur when women are impacted by the underside of their relationships:
twelve percent said they intentionally decreased the quality of their work; 22 percent decreased their work effort; 28 percent lost work time trying to avoid the offending person; 52 percent lost time worrying about the person and the unpleasant interaction; and 46 percent contemplated changing jobs. (p. 13)
Finally, Chesler (2001) describes the ways that women hurt and silence "themselves in terms of dissent, creativity, and deviance ... in order to preserve relationships" in organizational settings (p. 341).
We also wanted to understand the underside better because we are concerned about the almost complete silence about it in academic circles. We are curious to know if more light could be shed on the underside if it was looked at through an academic lens. Moreover, as critical communication scholars, we are suspicious of the "origin" explanations as only rooted in feminine friendship expectations and as the shortcoming of idealized feminine friendship expectations. We are also suspicious about placing the onus of responsibility for solving the underside on individual women. We are skeptical of both because each fails to consider if or how women's structural positioning in organizations might impact or be part of the underside. As a result, we are interested in exploring the connection between the micro communication practices entailed in the underside with macro systems of structural and material power. Thus, similar to other critical organizational scholars who employ the "discourse of suspicion" (Deetz, 1992; Hardy & Philipps, 1999; Mumby, 1987), we wanted to understand the underside more complexly and to consider how the underlying structures of domination and resistance also might be playing out and shaping it. In short, we designed and executed the study reported here to understand more complexly and theoretically this underside of women's relationships at work, to consider how and why it might emerge so persistently and often in organizational settings, and how women's positioning within organizational settings might impact and influence the underside.
Because we wanted to explore simultaneously the complex dynamics and the explanations of the underside, in our work we employ the term the shadow side as a rubric for the underside, the dynamics that constitute it, and the underbelly it encompasses. To get at this complexity, we asked two questions: First, are the findings described by popular writers confirmed in an academic study? To answer the first question, we did interviews with professional women. Based on our findings and employing feminist standpoint theory, we asked a second speculative question: Is there something about organizations as institutions that might encourage and perpetuate these dynamics between some women in the workplace? This second question allows us to explore simultaneously both the origin explanations and solution offered to solving the underside. This question also allows us to consider the potential relationships that might exist between the micro communication themes found and the macro systems of structural and material power within organizational settings. In short, we asked this second question because, as Ashcraft and Mumby (2004) suggest, many critical organizational studies assume that "surface level meanings and behaviors obscure deep structure conflicts, contradictions, and neuroses" in both organizations and the larger society (p. 49).
In doing so, we employed four key concepts from feminist standpoint theory--constrained agency, women's structural positioning, double vision and outsiders within--to reflect on the potential structural and material forces at work in the shadow side in masculine organizational settings. Based on both questions, we argue that the women we interviewed confirm the findings of the popular literature--the shadow side is at work in their relationships in organizational settings and it impacts their lives interpersonally and professionally--and we speculate that the rules and norms for feminine friendship are mixing with a variety of masculine institutional and structural factors that cultivate and even encourage the shadow side in the workplace. We also conclude that changing the shadow side requires strategies of resistance grounded in consciousness raising and critical reflection about both individual and structural issues.
Methodological Framework: Feminist Standpoint Theory (2)
Theoretically, our analysis is grounded in feminist standpoint theory. Feminist standpoint theory is particularly appropriate for our purposes because, as many feminist communication scholars (Allen, 1996, 1998; Bullis, 1993; Buzzanell, 1994; Dougherty & Krone, 2000; Sloan & Krone, 2000; Wood, 1994) note, it adds important insights into women's position within organizational settings. Moreover, feminist standpoint theory is useful because it allows us to recognize both similarities and differences among women. Feminist standpoint theorists (Collins, 1986, 1990, 1995, 1997; Harding, 1991, 1997; Hartsock, 1983, 1985, 1997a, 1997b; hooks, 1984; O'Brien Hallstein, 1997, 1999, 2000; Rose, 1983; Smith, 1987; Wood, 1992, 1994) recognize both commonalities and differences among women. Indeed, they view all of us as members of multiple discourse communities or groups, with some more important than others in different situations, while also addressing the importance of group membership in the formation of identity and in perceptions of the behavior of self and others.
Although there are several different strands, as O'Brien Hallstein (2000) suggests, theoretically, feminist standpoint theorists argue that women occupy a distinct position and potential standpoint in culture. Feminist standpoint scholars do so because, under the sexual division of labor ensconced in capitalist patriarchy, women have been systematically exploited, oppressed, excluded, devalued, and dominated. As a result of this theoretical grounding, feminist standpoint theorists argue that women as a group share the common experience of disadvantage in relation to men as a group and this structural position is constituted by structural and institutional inequality in relation to men who are granted structural power and privilege.
For clarity, we believe it is important to note that feminist standpoint scholars view this positioning and gender as socially constructed in ways that deeply influence women's membership as women in a variety of contexts. Within organizational settings, for example, gender is a relational category and a structural positioning within the masculine power dynamics of the workplace that position women, as a group, in a subordinate position in comparison to men as a group. Thus, a feminist standpoint theorist also assumes that people perform, or "do" gender in ways that express their understanding of gender roles and, equally important, as noted by West and Zimmerman (1987), that gender performances influence how people "perceive the behavior of others in a similar light" in a variety of contexts (pp. 125-126).
Translating these concepts from feminist standpoint theory into a method, however, is complex. Feminist standpoint scholars (Dougherty & Krone, 2000; Harris & Donmoyer, 2000; O'Brien Hallstein, 2000) have noted that the work has yet to be done to develop a specifically feminist standpoint methodology. Instead, scholars employing feminist standpoint theory embrace multiple methods. This move is justified for two reasons. First, as Dougherty and Krone (2000) argue using Harding, feminist standpoint theorists eschew blind allegiance to one method because, theoretically, they have shown that no method is powerful enough to eliminate social bias (p. 14). Second, as …