At the top of many organizations there is usually a man. Sowhat happens when a woman has worked her way to the top and is running theshow? We may assume there will be a climate of diplomacy, warmth and sharing.What may be surprising is when these women create an atmosphere of competition,ice, and lack of nurturing, especially for the women following in herfootsteps. This phenomenon has been called, "Queen Bee Syndrome," and was mademost famous by a group of researchers who studied promotion rates and how itcorrelated with the impact of the women's movement.
We find this syndrome inall areas where successful women are at the top, whether it is media, amongtalents, and in businesses. Typically, it is most frequently seen in women whowork or hold jobs in male-dominated environments, and what we see is theirbehavior to oppose the rise of other women who threaten them or their job. The psychologists who did the study hypothesized that the QueenBees actually became obsessed with holding on to their job, and therefore,kicked anyone else on the ladder off.
Women's and men's success is a large part due totheir socializing. In the past, men were socialized to be competitive,impendent and focused in careers with other men. Women, on the hand, were morelikely to be socialized to be networkers, inclusive, and broad minded in aneffort to work together with other women to get ahead. Women's greatest successand survival has been our ability to network with other women. When we lose orgive up this option we forfeit our ability to advance our careers, and we letdown the women who are right behind us learning from our steps taken forward.
Why are women at the top trying to kick otherwomen off the ladder? Even when you lookat bullying behavior at work, women are more likely to bully other women thantheir male colleagues. Males are at least equal opportunity offenders withbullying, insulting both men and women as this study reports: "In 2010, theWorkplace Bullying Institute, a national education and advocacy group, reportedthat female bullies directed their hostilities toward other women 80% of thetime—up 9% since 2007. Male bullies, by contrast, were generallyequal-opportunity tormentors."
There are many theories why this happens atwork, and I am sure it is complicated as well as specific to work milieus. Ihave had wonderful female bosses who were exceptional mentors, and I have hadfemale bosses who were very threatened. I have experienced the same with malebosses. What does stand out with my female bosses who were threatened is theamount of energy they would expend trying to kick me off the ladder. If theyhad just asked me to leave it would have been so much more respected, but whenyou look at the way women communicate being direct is more difficult for them.This may be part of the reason they do come across more icy, calculated andcruel when they are Queen Bees. Their obsession is deeper felt due to theirfear of losing what they have.
As with all things, before we can stop the QueenBee Syndrome we must identify if we ourselves suffer from it. Below are signsyou may be acting like a Queen Bee.
If your boss is suffering from the Queen BeeSyndrome and you are a female, here are suggestions that may help you survivein the work place.
I like to mentor for both men and women. Most of my colleaguesdo as well. It is challenging for a woman to work in a field that istraditionally male, just as it is challenging for a male to work in atraditionally female environment. However, when women are in male dominatedfields she looks at her female colleagues as possible saboteurs, and just asmen who are socialized to be competitive, she becomes the same way. The problemis that men will compete with men and women, women will compete with women. Theadvancement of more women in traditionally male jobs depends largely on our sistersnot being threatened by us, but embracing and mentoring. –Mary Jo Rapini
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