Women learn to 'stitch up' colleagues

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Women "naively" believe that hard work will earn them promotion but soon realise that they have to "stitch up" colleagues to succeed in their profession, a study suggested yesterday.

While insisting they were "appalled" by men's "nasty, immoral" power games, the women interviewed said they had learnt how to play the political game. But they felt "self-handicapped" by their reluctance to do so.

The research by Dr Kate Mackenzie Davey painted a damning picture of women's perception of their male colleagues as well as their own impression that they were disadvantaged.

Dr Mackenzie Davey, of Birkbeck College, University of London, who announced her findings at the British Psychological Society conference in Blackpool, admitted the research was "depressing" and a sad reflection on the culture of parts of British industry.

Researchers following the early careers of women graduates in male-dominated manufacturing industries found that they saw themselves as "good-natured innocents" made sceptical by a "macho" environment. Dr Mackenzie Davey said: "I was rather startled by the consistency with how much they talked about politics being macho, male and unacceptable. They realised that to get on you have to stitch people up, stab colleagues in the back, manage appearances, and try to appear better than other people.

"The women naively believed they would be promoted by doing a good job, but the more they saw of their organisation the more they realised that was not necessarily the case.

"Men are benefiting by doing something that they enjoy, doing down a competitor and getting on in a career. Women are constructing themselves as disadvantaged through not enjoying these games," Dr Mackenzie Davey said in the study paper.

Nevertheless, the women interviewed insisted they had managed to achieve promotion through ability alone.

Dr Mackenzie Davey said that, while industry may be seen to have stamped out such barriers, unspoken rules and male-dominated cultures still existed.

But she admitted she had deliberately selected extreme examples of macho industries for the research.