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How To Handle Mean Girls At Work With Rosalind Wiseman

Haley Paskalides  |  February 21, 2024

Rosalind Wiseman, the writer who inspired Mean Girls, shares how to deal with catty coworkers and advocate for yourself at work.

Do you prefer to have a male or female boss? Have you ever thought about why? If you might lean towards choosing a man, it doesn’t mean you’re anti-feminist. Large surveys by Pew and Gallup show that women usually prefer to work for — and with — men. Also, a UCLA study found that even amongst women who are managers themselves, they’re more likely to want a male boss than a female one. Why? The participants explained that female bosses can be “emotional,” “catty,” or “bitchy.” 

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If you’re a female leader, it’s likely you’re cringing just as much as we were when we saw this. It’s clear we need this narrative to change, ASAP, especially if we want to elevate more women into positions of power where they can thrive. Perhaps no one knows the intricacies of these challenges better than Rosalind Wiseman, author of: “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World,” the inspiration for the Mean Girls franchise. 

Wiseman says she’s constantly hearing from women that their workplaces are like high school. As a result, she now spends most of her professional life addressing toxic workplace issues like recruitment, high staff turnover, and women making their workplace difficult for other women. She says one of the main reasons women continue to perpetuate high school-esque bullying when they get into the workforce is that we like to convince ourselves that we’ve moved beyond this stage in our lives… “But if we don’t get a handle on how to handle conflict and learn skills around conflict management, we are going to get really blindsided by experiences where we think that we should be able to handle things better,” Wiseman says. “And when you’re blindsided, it’s really hard to be able to respond effectively.”

LISTEN: The Last Girlboss With Marisa Meltzer

Wiseman says that one of the most effective ways to deal with a workplace where you feel like women are talking about you behind your back (or, for example, purposely not inviting you to happy hour) is to find one person you trust at your job and ask them for feedback. Step one is to tell them why you value their opinion. Then, whenever it feels organic, say something like, “I’ve been really struggling with how to join X group, or how to make myself more valuable to other people. So, I’d like to be able to take ten minutes of your time where I could ask you some questions so you can give me some feedback about that.”

With that said, the problem may not be you at all — getting feedback that you simply need more respect and more appreciation for who you are is also incredibly valuable! 

Rosalind Wiseman has worked with many women over the years who say they’re frustrated in their workplace, whether they’re dealing with the quintessential “mean girls,”or just feeling stuck in their role, but think if they advocate for themselves they could risk losing their jobs. Wiseman says before you throw in the towel and start looking for a new role, step back and ask yourself the following questions first: “How do I know that to be true? How much is me telling myself a story? How much is this about patterns that I grew up with, about how I am permitted to express my anger or not, or advocate for myself? And how is that impacting the way that I am seeing my situation right now?” 

After that, she says to get comfortable in our own discomfort, call out bad behavior, and speak up for what you want in your workplace. In Mailbag, we hear from a listener who’s wondering if she should become the co-owner of a property she’s buying for a granddaughter, and we check in with someone who is considering taking a job at a company with terrible reviews… Should she bring this up in an interview? In our money tip of the week, is jetting off to somewhere sunny and warm to take a “workcation” a good idea? 


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All advisory services offered through Financial Engines Advisors L.L.C. (FEA), a federally registered investment advisor. Results are not guaranteed. AM1969416

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