'My daughter's bully was rewarded with a leadership role by her school.'

In business, we talk about the dangers of rewarding poor performance or bad behaviour. But in institutions that are apparently turning out our future leaders – and what aspiring school doesn't claim that? – the powers that be often make no more than tokenistic noises when an issue arises. Then they go back to business as usual.

As society tries to stamp out the "boys will be boys" excuse for bad male behaviour, it seems stories of girls bullying are met with an eye roll and an "ugh, teenage girls".

Why do we allow and enable girls to behave so badly and sometimes even reward that behaviour?

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, 20 per cent of males and 15 per cent of females report being bullied at least once a week – frightening statistics were made even more frightening when my daughter's best friend turned on her last year and started bullying her relentlessly. 

And yes, she recruited and was enabled by other girls. No one bullies alone.

Watch: What do you advise your child if they're being bullied? Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Literature provided by the school urges students who are bullied to contact a teacher. When my daughter told a teacher, there were a few conversations (none of them with me) but nothing happened. My daughter felt unheard and unsafe.

When she told me what was happening, I called a meeting with the school, which apparently triggered a formal process.

At each meeting, five school representatives and I sat around the table. Yes, the school admitted they had identified a "pattern of behaviour" but openly refused to ever use the word "bullying" – presumably some legal line they could not cross. Nothing was done. And for the student with this "pattern of behaviour", there were zero consequences.

Instead, in a page straight out of the 'victim-blaming 101 manual', my daughter was told she might want to move class to avoid the girl.

At the time, my daughter was grieving her recently deceased father, and the loss of a friendship at this time was doubly devastating.

My daughter asked for a facilitated meeting with the girl to try to understand why she was doing it. 

The girl's parents (who had studiously ignored me when our paths crossed throughout this process) told their daughter she didn't have to attend a meeting, so she refused to participate in the process, at which point the school declared itself powerless.


This girl's father is the CEO of a large organisation and I am a single mother with my own business. Is this power imbalance, and the potential for large contributions to the school's building fund, a factor?

In business, stories of people being bullied by their workmates or their boss are still common. Most of the time we hear about them once the person has left their job and doesn't fear the consequences of talking about their experience.

We felt we had no choice but to leave the school at the end of the year. My daughter is thriving at her new school. Even after leaving, we heard stories of others being targeted by this girl and her friends, of girls being "discouraged" from auditioning for the school musical so she and her friends would get the roles, and of friendships in tatters.

Yet perhaps neither of us was surprised when we recently saw this same girl had been given a leadership role at the school for Year 12.

The world of business is full of stories of people behaving badly and being rewarded for it. Only this week I met a senior executive from one of the big four banks who says she has recently been driven out of her role by a new boss. When she emailed the executive leadership team on her last day to say farewell, they were unaware that she was leaving, and were horrified that they were losing her. And the people in her team have learned to keep their heads down and start job hunting.


At school, even those girls sitting on the sidelines, hoping they won't be the next target, are seeing that bad behaviour has no consequences, and that some people are untouchable, often because the school doesn't want to risk its reputation. Is this really the message we want our children to learn?

Maybe the girl my daughter encountered is what David Gillespie would describe in his book Taming Toxic People as a psychopath – essentially, someone devoid of empathy and therefore able to wreak havoc in other people's lives without remorse. In this case, Gillespie would suggest that, left unchecked, she could make it to senior management without changing her behaviour. Do we want our children working for people like this later in life?

I fervently hope that early in her career she will encounter a manager who will not tolerate her appalling behaviour and will enforce consequences for lying, manipulation and behaving badly. 

Her school certainly has not.

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