The Queen Bee Syndrome is outdated in today’s workplace
The Queen Bee syndrome was a common occurrence with women in positions of power but is there a place for them in the 21st century?
I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing the wrath of a few Queen Bee’s in my time and I’m sure you have too. Whether you are in school, university or the workplace we have all encountered, Queen Bee Syndrome. The Queen Bee, in educational environments, may just be the winner of the popularity contest, but in the workplace Queen Bee Syndrome is a direct product of gender imbalance.
1973 Staines, Tavris and Jayaratne defined this phenomenon as ‘women who are in a position of power, treat subordinates more critically if they are female’. At the time it was less common for women to achieve senior roles (only 11% of women went to university), and Queen Bees were considered to be trailblazers. To achieve that success some these women had to assume the behaviour patterns of the dominant (male) culture to gain acceptance and be assimilated. Dominance and assertiveness are employed, in order to forge their career paths. Sound familiar?
Often the Queen Bee wants to be successful in her career, but doesn’t openly help other women succeed in theirs, using their power to drive out competition. They feel it may threaten their hard-earned position. One of the most well-known Queen Bees of all time was the U.K Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Famously she did little to advance the careers of the women around her in her cabinet.
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A close male equivalent to the Queen Bee would be the ‘Alpha Male’. He would typically have the same traits, however, there is no such thing as the ‘Alpha Male’ syndrome, because it is desirable as a man to have these qualities but as a woman this is deemed to be a ‘problem’. She is the Alpha Bitch. So women are caught in the double bind – doomed if they do and damned if they don’t.
But there are also other downsides. The Workplace Bullying Institute, conducted a workplace survey in the U.S and found that in 80% of cases the Queen Bee’s targets are female. They are more likely to bully another woman than a man.
Women are also still being encouraged to change the way they speak and address people, to adopt a more masculine style, highlighted by Deborah Tannen’s ‘Difference Theory’ discusses this, essentially male and female speech differs in six main ways:
- Men seek status whereas women seek support,
- Women seek sympathy for their problems but men want a solution to their problems
- Men’s conversation is for information whereas women’s conversation is to build relationships
- Men tend to address people with orders whereas women use proposals.
- Men often get a lot more involved in conflicts but their female counterparts will try to arrive at a compromise and avoid confrontation
- Where men seek independence, women seek intimacy.
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Queen bees have had their day
In 2018 Queen Bees and their methods of ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ have had their day, there is no need to adopt what are perceived to be more masculine coded qualities to succeed. The answer is that we shouldn’t have to. This line of thinking is a trap for both men and women. Women bring great things to the workplace and we should not compromise these traits, which now outdates the whole Queen Bee syndrome.
In ‘Bee’ terms the thinking is that ‘without the Queen Bee the whole hive is doomed’ At one time this behaviour might have been true. The Queen Bee, in earlier generations, although characterised as “tyrannous”, in a way that her male counterparts were not, was perceived as a role model to women who wanted careers in male dominated sectors. The 1970’s Queen Bee was an enigma who was breaking the mould. Today the Queen Bee really serves no purpose, she is as redundant as the outdated expectations and bias of women of which surround her.
There is no need, or use in the 21st century for Queen Bees. Today’s workplace needs strong, balanced teams of both men and women and without them a organisations are at a disadvantage. If our leaders don’t recognise this, we might as well be back in 1973.
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