The term “queen bee syndrome” was coined in the 1970s, following a study led by researchers at the University of Michigan—Graham Staines, Toby Epstein Jayaratne and Carol Tavris—who examined promotion rates and the impact of the women’s movement on the workplace. In a 1974 article in Psychology Today, they presented their findings, based on more than 20,000 responses to reader surveys in that magazine and Redbook. They found that women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women. This occurred, they argued, largely because the patriarchal culture of work encouraged the few women who rose to the top to become obsessed with maintaining their authority.
This is infuriating to me for two reasons (just two?!):
(1) It’s lonely at the top. There’s nothing worse I can think of than being a female executive and not having a single other female executive around. My message to the Queen Bee: You think “you’ve arrived”? Until there are MANY women in positions of executive leadership, you will never know if you’re just a token, and I’m not sure how gratifying it is to have that word implied in your high-brow title.
(2) There is SO MUCH WORK to be done! Couldn’t you use a little help? I know I need all the help I can get. If others aren’t valuing women’s contributions to my company, my industry, my environment, you bet I sure as hell am because I refuse to be a slave to this “I’ve arrived” mentality of constantly proving that I deserve to be here by doing it ALL. No way, that’s not the way it goes. At the executive level, you’re responsible for making sure it all gets done, but not necessarily responsible for doing it all yourself. Where would that leave you? Burnt out, ineffective, perhaps unable to also prioritize family? Well that sounds like a bum deal to me. Why would you put yourself in that position? You’re setting yourself up to fail.
Helping other female colleagues up the ladder when deserved is such a better way of being a contributor, reinforcing your leadership potential, establishing your role as a mentor, and being effective in the workplace. A Queen Bee doesn’t break the glass ceiling; Queen Bees don’t even realize that the ceiling might have been opened for them and then perhaps closed right behind them by male executives. Don’t be fooled. You want to take credit for breaking that glass ceiling? Take all the worker bees with you and collectively smash it!
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As a side note, studies trace this concept of keeping your fellow female down to middle school and high school bullying. Now more than ever, the topic of bullying and its ill effects if unaddressed are making headlines. As parents, as educators, and as responsible community members and leaders, this is just another reason that we’ve got to nip that in the bud.