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Queen Bee Syndrome Is Not a Thing


Women, amirite? When they’re not weeping or scheming, they’re tearing each other down at work. Or, at least, that’s how the theory goes. It’s called Queen Bee Syndrome, and it’s occupied a place in workplace lore for as long as women have been represented in the labor force. There’s just one problem. A recent study shows that it’s probably not true.


(Photo Credit: Ano Lobb/Flickr)

Researchers at Columbia Business School examined management at 1,500 companies over a period of 20 years. Their findings showed that companies with female CEOs were more likely to promote other women to positions of authority. This is contrary to earlier research, which claimed that women in charge were likely to hold back other females at their company.

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The good news only pertains to the top spot, however; when women were promoted to high-ranking roles subordinate to the CEO level, it was 50 percent less likely that other female colleagues would follow them to the executive level, according to The Guardian.

“Women face an implicit quota, whereby firms seek to maintain a small number of women on their top management team, usually only one,” the researchers said. “While firms gain legitimacy from having women in top management, the value of this legitimacy declines with each woman.”

In other words, the “enemy” might not be other women, but men, or rather a patriarchal corporate culture that places value on seeing many male faces around a conference table.

On the other hand, maybe parsing things by gender is an outdated way to determine who will be on your side in a given workplace.

“The problem with all this – and I’m really not sure the new survey helps – is that it encourages the sort of polarised black-and-white thinking that has ensured feminism has made far fewer strides over the past six decades than it should have done,” writes Viv Groskop at The Guardian Women. “Do any of us really behave ‘like a man’ or ‘like a woman’ at work in the 21st century? Yes, in movies – which are fictional! – we encounter people like Rizzo (Stockard Channing in Grease) or Regina (Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls). Yes, in the workplace these kinds of toxic people might exist from time to time. But in real life, nasty, narcissistic people are just as likely to be men as women. Similarly, surely gender is not ever going to predict the person most likely to help you out with good career advice.”

It could be that it’s time to stop pretending we work with bees – or monkeys, or dogs, or any other animal that operates in a hierarchy, and is thus attractive to armchair organizational psychologists – and start relating to one another as human beings, instead.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you feel that you’ve been the victim of Queen Bee Syndrome? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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