Some women discriminate other women when they become a leader. This phenomenon is called the “Queen Bee – Syndrom” and describes the behavior of women who succeeded in their career but refuse to help other women to do the same.
Once a women manages to reach a top position in a masculine environment, she might rather wait for a junior to prove their talent, and to show that they are as ambitious and intelligent as she herself was. By adopting this behavior she more and more becomes “one of the boys” and additionally serves as the “living proof” that a gender bias does not exist. In a masculine environment, where female managers represent a minority, all eyes are on her – if she fails, the group of women has failed in the eyes of her male evaluators and colleagues. By not showing solidarity to other women, and rather concentrating on her own performance, she remains exceptional. Distancing herself from female subordinates can additionally allow for the opportunity to show more masculine qualities, stereotypically seen as more culturally valuable and professional.
Women not only refuse to share knowledge but also oppose to other women’s enhancement because of two reasons. First, because of strong competitive traits in business and the fear to be overtaken by another exceptional women. Second, because of the presumption that other women might perform poorly which then will fall back on all women. Both effects are related to a setting with a male majority and a female minority; and to the fact that this masculine environment is often related to strong competition between individuals.
Having said this, queen bee behavior is not the personal or individual fault of those women. It is rather a result of a system that promotes meritocracy, and individualism over teamwork.
Discriminating against women is a symptom of a masculine environment which excludes people who are not the same. By “becoming one the boys”, female leaders declare their solidarity with the system. From a social identity perspective, those successful women see themselves as “non prototypical” group members and therefore distance from their original peer group.
Putting a woman in a top position might therefore not change anything at all as they might charge women more critically than their male colleagues. A gender-balanced management team, however, will prevent from those majority / minority affect that puts the spotlight on single women and their leadership style. Additionally, efforts towards a more collaborative working style must be increased. If teamwork, consensus and mutual support outperform individual performance pressure, the need to distance from those who might not perform as exceptional as the leaders themselves did, will decrease.
The message of this article is simple: No matter if you have male or female top leaders, be sure that all the persons have a significant knowledge about gender, gender biases and gender equality.
Further reading for those who are interested:
- McKinsey about Queen Bee & Stereotypes https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/leadership/its-good-to-be-the-queen-but-its-easier-being-the-king
- Scientific paper about the Queen Bee Syndrom in Science by Naomi Ellemers et al. (2004): https://core.ac.uk/reader/15455940
Do you want to talk to Marita about your experiences with the “Queen Bee – Syndrome”?
Contact her by mail: firstname.lastname@example.org