Myth: Women are mean and undermine each other at work because of Queen Bee Syndrome
One of the most enduring myths about women is that women are mean to each other and undermine each other at work because of the Queen Bee Syndrome. Some women do have stories of sabotage by another woman at work. My research, published in my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, found examples of this type of behavior between women but also identified ways that organizational systems set women up against each other.
In fact, this behavior between women is no different than the same behavior reported by all marginalized groups. Token representation sets marginalized group members against each other to compete for limited opportunities in environments controlled by dominant group members. This behavior is not unique to women.
The participants in my study also talked about the importance in their lives of women’s support. Several new studies, reported by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in the New York Times, confirm that strong evidence exists to knock a hole in “the myth of the catty woman.”
Key findings from the studies include:
- When researchers studied the top management of the Standard and Poor’s 1,500 companies over twenty years, they found that when the chief executive was male, it was unlikely that more than one woman would make it onto the senior management team. When the chief executive was a woman, more women joined senior management.
- On corporate boards, women are less likely than men to be mentored or promoted to senior management positions—unless there is already a woman on the board.
- In Latin American politics between 1999 and 2013, female presidents appointed 24 percent more female ministers to their cabinets.
- When women negotiate on behalf of other women, they are able to boost their own salaries, too.
Queen Bees do Exist
Yes, there are still some Queen Bees in organizations, particularly in male-dominated ones where opportunities for women’s advancement are limited. And men can also be quite mean to each other, though their behavior is often viewed as healthy competition and has no name equivalent to Queen Bee. Let’s look for ways to lift each other up and move past negative stereotypes about women. For the most part, these stereotypes are not true and definitely not the whole story.
Women can continue to support each other by:
- Mentoring each other and being role models for supporting women.
- Celebrating each other’s accomplishments, especially when they are overlooked.
- Helping each other be heard in meetings.
- Talking with each other and agreeing to compete and have each other’s backs. Yes—we really can do this!
If you have experiences supporting or being supported by women in your workplace, please share them in the comments section.