Plaid For Women’s #NoMeanGirls campaign resonates with me because I spent most of my formative career years as a temporary, and then in law and trucking. When I joined the workforce in the 1980’s there weren’t many women in positions of authority – especially at law firms and in trucking companies.

I’m collaborative by nature, so I always wondered why some women didn’t play well with other ladies. Perhaps a journey through the history of Mean Girls will explain how they evolved, and what happens when their bad behavior catches up with them.

Queen Bees: The Original Mean Girls

Queen Bees are the original Mean Girls. The Queen Bee was usually the boss’s secretary (they weren’t assistants back then) but sometimes she held another gatekeeper position. The Queen Bee syndrome was first defined back in the 1970s by researchers who studied the prevalence of the women’s movement within the (then patriarchal) workplace. Queen Bees were defined as a woman who succeeded in her career, but refused to help other women do the same.

A Queen Bee doesn’t always rise to the level of a true “B” (bitch). She’s more subversive and manipulative than in your face. As an example, I first worked with a Queen Bee during my early days in the trucking industry. Our Queen Bee started as the CEO’s secretary (we didn’t have administrative assistants back then). A role was created for her as a Customer Service Manager.

To keep her hive in place, she hired young women who were subservient and didn’t dare interact with the rest of the office. True to form, our Queen Bee made sure that none of her subordinates were ever afforded an opportunity for advancement to another role or department.

Mean Girls are Insecure

Here’s the thing about Mean Girls and sometimes, Queen Bees: scratch the surface and they are a quivering mound of self-doubt, insecurity, and lack of confidence. This toxic mixture transforms Mean Girls and Queen Bees into full-fledged bitches. While men are “tough”, “direct” and “assertive”, women are “mean” and “bitchy”.

So how can we diffuse an insecure Mean Girl? Stay professional. Don’t ever let a mean girl bring you down to her level of behavior. Let her gossip, rebukes and slights bounce off of you as if you were made of Teflon. Don’t take it personally. She’s wrestling with her own demons and you’re simply in the line of fire.

Learn from Mean Girls

It’s said that we learn lessons during the most difficult of times. Personally I couldn’t make this adage work for me until I discovered The 8 Verses for Training the Mind. The 8 verses were written between 1054 – 1123. and the Dalai Lama has an entire lecture series on them.

Verse 4 states:

“When I see beings of unpleasant character
Oppressed by strong negativity and suffering,
May I hold them dear – for they are rare to find –
As if I have discovered a jewel treasure!”

This verse puts it all in perspective. A Mean Girl isn’t self-aware enough to understand the demons that are tormenting her. Instead, we need to be aware of them and understand why she’s behaving this way.

Was she passed over for a promotion? Is she in a new role or environment? Is she being bullied by a superior? Or does she have a miserable home life? Try to figure out the root cause of her behavior. It may not make it any easier to deal with, but at least you’ll understand why she’s acting this way. She’s teaching you a lesson in compassion, difficult as it may be.

Whatever you do, don’t go it alone. Make sure that HR and your supervisor are aware of how the Mean Girl is behaving. If you have to go over her head, so be it. Don’t be afraid to complain or of retaliation. If you examine your feelings closely enough, you’ll probably realize that you don’t want to work there, anyway. As for retaliation, remember that our Mean Girl is insecure. Your complaint will probably result in her getting some form of disciplinary action, or at least some much-needed coaching. Don’t forget that she already doesn’t think she’s qualified for her position, so the disciplinary action becomes her own self-fulfilling prophecy that she’s a failure at heart.

Karma is a Bitch, Too!

At the end of the day, our Mean Girls and Queen Bees are creating their own bad karma. They are causing misery in the workplace, and it will come back to haunt them in the form of:

  • High turnover
    • The US is at full employment, and corporations are increasingly focused on retention. Mean Girls are often the root cause of turnover.
  • Difficulty recruiting
    • If management doesn’t control the Mean Girl, the whole company gets a reputation for being a bad place to work. Don’t underestimate the candidate grapevine. Job applicants know which companies hire winners and which ones tolerate losers.
  • References
    • Mean Girls get a reputation for being difficult to work with. It’s often a bitch for them to land that next job.

The chaos and bad karma follows Mean Girls. Often when a leader moves from one job to a new one, they solicit a few high performing colleagues to join them. Mean Girls aren’t usually part of this recruiting effort.

As an HR professional, I’ve worked with managers who tried to rehabilitate Mean Girls by transferring them into new roles. This is hard to pull off successfully. Mean Girls often don’t do well outside their comfort zones, so they tend to crash and burn in unfamiliar work environments.


In retrospect, we used to worry about workplace violence, but until the Millennials joined the workforce we never gave much thought to bullies. I think they’re raising the bar for employers and I have high expectations for the Millennial workforce. They enjoy collaboration and want to have a sense of higher purpose at their workplace. They won’t tolerate bullies or Mean Girls. So, is it possible that Mean Girls will one day face extinction? Let’s hope so.


Liz D’Aloia does her best to practice patience and compassion when she encounters a Mean Girl. She implemented a strict “No Mean Girls/No Jerks” hiring policy at HR Virtuoso. Prior to founding HR Virtuoso, Liz worked as a Senior Employment Counsel and as a VP of HR in the transportation, retail, and mortgage industries. Liz believes that companies with high volume hourly recruiting needs must have deep candidate pools. She developed HR Virtuoso to give employers the talent pools they need to make smart decisions and is committed to making the system affordable for companies of all sizes.