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Study: Queen Bee Syndrome In the Workplace Persists

Topics: Work Culture
Angry woman
Image Credit: Pexels / kinkate

Fetch may never happen, but queen bee syndrome is all too real and even seems to be getting worse. Queen bee syndrome is the phenomenon in which a woman in a position of authority views and treats subordinates who are women more critically than she does male subordinates.

Researchers from the University of Arizona sought to understand how the phenomenon has changed in recent years. They asked, are women exposed to more incivility at work? And, who is responsible for these incidents?

The problem has been studied and documented for some time now. Research confirming the phenomenon has been published by Cornell University, Social Science Research, and the British Journal of Social Psychology, just to name a few. Now, new research from the University of Arizona shows that the problem is continuing to impact women in the workplace in a big way.

Women deal with more incivility at work

Allison Gabriel, assistant professor of management and organizations in the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, set out with her coauthors to better understand the current state of what’s been dubbed queen bee syndrome in the workplace.

“Studies show women report more incivility experiences overall than men, but we wanted to find out who was targeting women with rude remarks,” Gabriel told UA News.

Researchers conducted three studies in an attempt to better understand how workers experience incivility. Men and women, who were employed full time, answered questions about coworkers who “put them down or were condescending, made demeaning or derogatory remarks, ignored them in a meeting or addressed them in unprofessional terms.”

Researchers found that women reported more instances of this kind of incivility from other women than they did from men. This was true across the board. They found that women speak more rudely to one another than they did to men. As a result, women experience more instances of incivility at work than do their male counterparts. They are also more often responsible for the incidents than men.

“This isn’t to say men were off the hook or they weren’t engaging in these behaviors,” Gabriel explained. “But when we compared the average levels of incivility reported, female-instigated incivility was reported more often than male-instigated incivility by women in our three studies.”

Incidents of incivility rise when women defy gender norms

These researchers also identified another aspect to this problem. They found that when women defied gender norms with their behavior, through being more assertive or acting in an otherwise dominant way at work, they were more likely to be targeted.

This is one of the main ways that gender norms are enforced by society. A woman is shamed back into the more socially acceptable behaviors through critique from peers. Interestingly, according to this research, men did not experience the same phenomenon when they broke from gender normative behaviors.

“The researchers also found that when men acted assertive and warm — in general, not considered the norm for male behavior — they reported lower incivility from their male counterparts,” the report states. “This suggests men actually get a social credit for partially deviating from their gender stereotypes, a benefit that women are not afforded.”

These findings are a little discouraging. But, it’s good they surfaced. Individuals and employers have an opportunity to gain a better understanding of how women are being treated at work because of research like this. Women could use more support at work. Understanding the problem is the first step toward finding a solution.

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