Advice column: how should I tackle bullying by a female line manager who does not treat my male colleagues the same way?

Dear Ash,

I have been working for a female line manager for over a year now and she seems determined to make my life a misery. She seems perfectly nice and friendly towards other male colleagues of mine, but takes any opportunity to humiliate and criticise me, even where it is not warranted. I recently forwarded a file to a male colleague to deal with as instructed, but when an important deadline was missed she blamed me and shouted at me even though it was his responsibility. She seems to take any opportunity to shout at me in front of other colleagues rather than speaking to me about matters in private. I am the only female she is currently supervising, but I understand from colleagues that she has behaved similarly towards other female staff in the past. I’m not sure how to deal with the situation as I don’t want to jeopardise my position in the department, but I’m not sure how long I can put up with this situation.



Ash replies:

Bullying of any form is unacceptable in the workplace. Female upon female bullying is often not taken as seriously as when a male and female are involved. In a 2009 article in the New York Times, “A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting,” it was suggested that female bullying remains unaddressed in the workplace due to the fear that addressing it would prove a setback in the long battle for gender equality. Essentially it is perceived that if women who bully are confronted about their behaviour, it would imply that women do not know how to manage or behave in the workplace.

However, bullying is bullying no matter the gender of the bully and needs to be addressed. You need to ask first to speak to the manager in question in private, and advise her calmly why her behaviour has been causing you concern and the impact it has had on your confidence. You may find it easier to write down your concerns and then ask for a meeting to discuss. If the manager has never had her behaviour addressed, she may not be aware of the damage she is causing.

If you feel unable to address her directly, then submit your grievance in writing and refer to the incidents in which you felt that you were treated unfairly. However, also make a point of setting out your enthusiasm to learn from her and to be good at your job. Do refrain from making any direct personal attacks within the grievance.

If the situation does not improve, then either talk to HR or to a senior manager within the team to ensure your concerns are addressed. By airing your concerns you should at the very least ensure that your line manager curbs her behaviour towards you in public. Confronting your line manager should also hopefully redeem some of your lost self confidence and self esteem. Good luck!


Send your queries to Ash


“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor:, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS.


Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, Manager in the Registrar’s Department on 0131 476 8105/8200, or

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