Queen Bee Syndrome – Why Women Should Be Concerned About Their Unequal Treatment of Others Too

While more and more companies in recent years say they are committed to gender equality, the proof is in the pudding and, unfortunately, women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America. According to the “2017 Law360 Glass Ceiling Report,” the share of women with equity partnerships — where the highest compensation and leadership positions are lodged — remains at 20 percent and has not changed in recent years.

While women espouse gender equality, sometimes those at the top are just as guilty as men in holding women back. Women discriminating against other women is referred to as “queen bee syndrome” and comes from work done by University of Michigan researchers in the 1970s. According to those researchers, women working in male-dominated environments held back other women in an effort to keep their elevated status.

Let’s be clear, not all women in the highest ranks are queen bees. Many in leadership positions are great mentors, teachers and advocates for women. But, interestingly, for those who do have difficulty competing with other women, academics argue that queen bee behavior is really a byproduct of discrimination committed by men.  It’s a byproduct of sexism. Many women come up through the ranks being taught that they need to think and act like men to succeed. They cope with sexism and bias by distancing themselves from other women and try to show that they’re not like other women.

Needless to say, queen bee syndrome is controversial as it tries to establish a cause and effect scenario. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, said a few years ago, “Women aren’t any meaner to women than men are to one another. Women are just expected to be nicer.”

Fortunately, current research suggests that in recent years, queen bee syndrome has declined.  Does that mean we’re any closer to equality in the workplace?  Let me put it this way:  a new World Economic Forum report puts a 217-year time estimate on how long it will take to reach gender equality in the workplace.  Looks like we have a great deal more to do!

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