Queen Bees are women in the workplace that treat colleagues in a demoralising, undermining or bullying manner. They should NOT be confused with strong, ambitious women in the workplace (which we applaud). Queen Bees are adult versions of the mean girls from school – but now they have grown up and are more calculating.
So why should we care?
Queen Bee mischief manifests in ways that can have lasting negative effects on individual careers and entire organisations. Since women have “attained a critical mass in the professional and managerial ranks of a significant percentage of companies, especially financial and services organisations,” management should be particularly concerned about issues of abusive conduct by and toward women, Lesley Levin Mary Mattis wrote in their research on corporate response to gender diversity. Hence, Queen Bee Syndrome can be the biggest hindrance to women advancing in the workplace because:
- Queen Bees often lack the sponsorship or support necessary to get promoted due to their negative behaviour. Poor leadership negatively impacts organisational performance and profitability.
- Queen Bees often prevent other talented, up-and-coming women from advancing in the workplace. Research from the Workplace Bullying Institute has suggested that, as many as 58% of bullies in the workplace are women, and these individuals most often victimise other women. The study found that Queen Bees choose other females as targets nearly 90% of the time.
I recently conducted a survey focused on women in the workplace, and found that approximately 70% had been the victim of either workplace bullying or covert undermining by a female boss. Along with the approximately 70% who had endured “the sting” of the Queen Bee boss, 33% had been on the receiving end of a woman on the same level or below being unhelpful, holding them back or undermining them.
Nicki Crick et al’s research on relational victimisation (2002) proposes that females are not often overtly aggressive with one another, but instead they use their social intelligence to manipulate relationships or damage the reputations of others. These socially aggressive behaviours include gossiping, social exclusion, social isolation, social alienation, talking about someone, and stealing friends or romantic partners. The jury is still out on exactly why Queen Bees exhibit such behaviour. Nearly 75% of the survey respondents thought that Queen Bee behaviour might stem from insecurity, whilst other possible causes include feeling the need to be aggressive in order to be taken seriously, or even Queen Bees desiring to be the only “top” woman.
Queen Bee Syndrome can have a negative impact on organisational performance and bottom line results which can include:
● Reduced productivity
● Reduced employee satisfaction
● Grievances and lawsuits
● Lower profitability
Addressing Queen Bee Syndrome will help companies to improve efforts to advance women in the workplace by (a) allowing women to identify and eliminate behaviours that keep them from obtaining senior positions in the workplace; (b) encouraging women to support each other in the workplace at all levels and leverage one another as allies; and (c) empower managers who are aware of Queen Bee Syndrome to intervene and stop the behaviour.
Management must develop a more complex and realistic image of women that includes recognition of their aggressive tendencies and the form of victimisation females are more likely to use. Addressing Queen Bee Syndrome can result in positive organisational outcomes such as:
● Reducing attrition of strong female talent
● Strengthening the talent pipeline of future leaders
● Improving recruitment efforts due to the supportive environment
● Improved employee morale
● Increased productivity
Cecilia Harvey is an advocate for women in tech and women in leadership. She is the founder and chair of global showcase platform Tech Women Today and the founder of app WalkingRed