Does Queen Bee Syndrome make women cruel?

Queen beeOrganisations may face a higher risk of losing female employees who experience female instigated rudeness as they report less satisfaction at work and increased intentions to quit their current jobs in response to these unpleasant experiences. This is according to a new study to be published shortly in the Journal of Applied Psychology by a team led by Allison Gabriel of the University of Arizona.

Queen Bee Syndrome has always been with us, women can be terribly cruel to those underneath them in the hierarchy and pull the ladder up behind them, rather than extend it down to support them in their career progression. If women have had a tough time becoming successful in their career, some women, rather than become the great role model and mentor they could be, feel other junior women coming up behind them are a threat and deciding to either be unpleasant to them or deliberately block their career path.

So how much of an issue is Queen Bee Syndrome in organisations and is it impacting the increase in numbers of women into the Board Room?

In my work I find that women are generally very keen to be mentors and role models and to support other women in their career progression. However, where there are issues, it is generally in cultures where women have experienced significant sexism and therefore seek to distance themselves from other women, behave more like their male counterparts and handle gender bias by behaving as if they are not the same as other women. Naomi Ellemers from Utrecht University has been researching this and describes these behaviours as “self-group distancing”, something, which can also occur with other minority groups in the workplace.

It will be interesting to read Gabriel’s Study, as Queen Bee Syndrome, like some of the other syndromes I have written about: Tiara Syndrome and Imposter Syndrome, can make a fairly sweeping generalisation about women’s behaviours. However, I do like Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO of Facebook) take on this> In her article in The New York Times in June 2016, she emphasises research that demonstrates when one woman reaches senior management, it was 51% less likely that a second woman would make it. However, the person blocking the second woman’s path wasn’t usually a Queen Bee; it was a male chief executive! When a woman was made chief executive, the opposite was true. In those companies, a woman had a better chance of joining senior management than when the chief executive was a man. In business, research supports the notion that women create opportunities for women. Sadly despite often having stronger qualifications than men, women are less likely to be mentored, unless there’s already a woman on the board. And when women do join the board, there’s more of a chance that other women will rise to top executive positions. Sandberg feels Queen Bees do exist, but they are less common than we think and women are no meaner to women than men are to each other. However, women are just expected to be ‘nicer’.

In the three studies that Gabriel and her co-authors undertook, they found that there was consistent evidence that women reported higher levels of incivility from other women than their male counterparts, Gabriel concludes that “In other words, women are ruder to each other than they are to men, or than men are to women.” It will be fascinating to see how this research lands and where it leads. However, I feel that organisations who develop robust mentoring for senior women, using both male and female role models, preparing them to undertake these key mentoring roles with open minds, intellectual humility and awareness of some of the undercurrents of secondary gender bias, will not be suffering the stings of the Queen Bees!


Join me on International Women’s Day 8th March 2018 at one or all of these free webinars:

Designing Mentoring to support Women – 12.00 UK time

Is it mentoring or sponsorship required in your organisation to develop your female workforce? And how do you create a programme where the mentors can positively support their female mentees and understand how to work with them on an agenda around being assertive with their promotions/packages/pay, applying for new experiences, self-confidence, ambition, personal branding, leadership style and friendships in the office? Join us for a webinar focusing on these design points and any aspects you are interested in discussing around mentoring women.

Use Mentoring to claim the Tiara you deserve! 14.00 UK time

A new topic we want to highlight on International Women’s Day 2018. Tiara Syndrome is about being too modest and believing that working hard and diligence will get you promoted and paid well. As Carol Frohlinger says, “Women expect that if they keep doing their job well someone will notice them and place a tiara on their head.” It is used to describe the professional modesty that many women have, which inhibits them ‘shouting’ about their abilities as much as their male colleagues. This webinar will focus on some of the manifestations of this syndrome and how mentoring or sponsorship can support women to gain the tiara they deserve!

Supporting Women’s Ambition through Mentoring – 16.00 UK time

Some women appear to be held back in their careers by having lower ambitions and expectations than their male counterparts. This impedes their career progress and is manifested in women displaying less career direction and behaviours such as not applying for roles if they don’t meet all the requirements. Something a lot of men wouldn’t worry about! This coupled with issues such as caring demands or competing with friends or partners in their careers, can detract some women from being interested in a more traditional, vertical career path. This webinar will explore women’s ambition, some of the barriers facing them and how mentoring can support a woman to develop her ambition further, if she wishes.

Contact to book onto any or all three of these webinars.

All webinars will be approx 30 to 40 minutes

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