Queen Bee or Rival. There is a BIG difference

by | Feb 1, 2016

What makes a Queen Bee?

regina george

Regina George -High School Queen Bee

An article in Forbes The Dark side of Female Rivalry suggests that "Another contributing factor to female rivalry is the workplace itself. The male dominated workplace sets women up to compete due to increased scrutiny and a scarcity of top leadership positions for women."

But is this really correct?

You all remember Regina George, right? Played by Rachel McAdams, she is the lead antagonist of the teen movie, Mean Girls. Regina George is portrayed as "controlling, deceiving, belittling and mean." She gets what she wants, takes out the other girls and is referred to as the "Queen Bee."

We have all come across Regina George. She is the girl in school who made fun of our clothes, our lunch box, our legs, and our grades. Regina George had no off-limits. She knew which buttons to push and did so whenever she needed to.

Just because we have graduated from high school, doesn't mean to say we have left her behind. We can encounter a Regina George at every stage and area of our lives.

[Tweet "Queen Bees exist in all spheres, and are not a by product of the workplace."] They even exist in all female environments. I've seen a Queen Bee at work in the P.T.A. A friend reports a Queen Bee in her gardening group.

Queen Bee Syndrome

The term “Queen Bee Syndrome” is rooted in studies carried out in the 1970s by University of Michigan around the role of women leaders.  Their research referenced in Psychology Today in 1974, suggested that these women who operate in predominantly male hierarchies, act to protect their own interests by either sabotaging other women, or by not supporting them. Margaret Thatcher was renown as the ultimate Queen Bee.

U.K. Psychologist and Executive Coach, Sharon Eden suggests that at the most basic primal level, women are trying to keep the best men for themselves. In a corporate environment these men are found supposedly at a senior level. Read: The lipstick Jungle: Female Saboteurs

A rival needn't be a Queen Bee

But as the number of middle level women has increased over time, what we are now seeing is rivalry between women who compete for senior level jobs. This does not automatically make them a Queen Bee, nor do they need to behave like one.

Some struggle with the notion of women being rivals, because it goes against the idea of  them being collaborative and supportive, to everyone, all the time. [Tweet "Women are actually fiercely competitive, but perhaps not openly."] Read: Do you REALLY think women aren't competitive. They are also not used to publicly stating their goals and owning their success or appearing ambitious. If they do, they frequently experience  gender blow back. Women also tend to accept tough decisions more readily from a male boss than a female one. Maya Angelou

The reality is that the time competing in the workplace has been very short for women and we are all simply not used to it. We don't know how to handle it. It would appear we don't know what to call it.

Few roles

Organisations today are generally pyramids with few senior roles at the top, for both men and women. For a woman to compete for a senior role, against other women doesn't automatically make her a Queen Bee. Susan Sarandon commented that she "didn't vote with her vagina" because she supported Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton, simply because she is a woman.

What we see now is that as more women hover below the top-level, choice will be made on merit not on gender. [Tweet "It doesn't make the woman a Queen Bee if she is successful."]

Rivalry not sabotage

In beehives, bees raise the queen. At one time it was considered important to understand that when we weaken the power of one woman, we weaken the power of all women. This ultimately would reduce the number of women rising through the ranks. This no longer applies to the same extent, as more and more women move up the hierarchy. Women can and do make poor decisions and may not deserve our support. The decision merits comment, not the woman.

Women need to compete in the workplace in a healthy way with both men and women. That shows that progress is being made. We have to understand that rivalry between women is not synonymous with sabotage. That's bullying.

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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.
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