Do You Compete Or Empower?
“The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.”
You’ve heard of the “Queen Bee” expression, she’s a bitch. In this case meaning a woman who has a dominant or controlling position in a particular group or sphere. This type of woman treats other women in the workplace more critically, disdainfully, meaner than she would a male colleague. The “Bee’s Knees” however is something quite the opposite and is viewed as a good thing or a highly admired person. It means, “the height of excellence, sweet and good,” because the knees of the bee are where all the sweet honey -- the good stuff is collected.
These expressions fall on vastly different ends of the spectrum from each other.
You may ask: How does an individual navigate, consciously or not, toward becoming a Queen Bee versus the Bee’s Knees? Believe it or not, the organizational culture one works in may be a great influencer for this type of behavior. And let’s be honest here, shall we? We are all familiar with these types of women in and out of the working environment -- you may see this socially, in your neighborhood, your book club, at your church, etc. It exists everywhere. For this topic, though, I am focusing on work.
It may come as no surprise, but women are often crueler to each other at work than they are to their male counterparts. In 1973 at the start of the women’s movement, a famous study coined the term Queen Bee.
This important study was one of the first of its kind that promoted awareness about behaviors of women within a working environment. It describes a woman in a position of authority who views or treats subordinates more critically if they are female. It is the tendency for a powerful woman to get used to being the only female in the group and to decide she wants to keep it that way.
Queen Bees are proud of the fact that they succeed in a world where most women do not; it is what makes them feel special and unique. The Queen Bee Syndrome focuses on the individual woman as one who does not lean toward group strategies or collaboration. She wants to climb to the top and be recognized for her own accomplishments and does not want to share her achievements with other women in terms of group recognition.
The other side of that equation beckons one to look at the aspect of individuality versus group recognition. If one is choosing to be an individual she often stands out as being bitchy, or the Queen Bee. Therefore, she may be viewed as instigating competition, rivalry, and jealousy from other women.
The term Queen Bee is still being used today as a way to describe women who have made it professionally in a world predominantly dominated by men.
Although every person is unique as to what motivates them, an organization’s culture may contribute to these specific types of behaviors. Studies on aggression suggest the reason for the behavior of rivalry between women in a working environment is related to its organizational culture, as that may foster aggression, competition and rivalry. On the other hand, it may also promote solidarity and trust. Having awareness and understanding to the cultural environment you work in is key.
In a male-dominated environment where there are fewer female positions to attain there may be a lack of willingness to support other women. Likewise, women may consciously or not, conform to masculine types of behaviors to fit in with their male counterparts, thus alienating other women. With fewer females at the top, women may be threatened by another woman who breaks the mold.
A real story: Ilene who worked 26-years in the intelligence community shared her experience about a Queen Bee senior to her. Ilene reflected that 20 years prior, the male dominated career service influenced the behavior of the other woman. During that time there were only two women holding positions of senior rank. It would have been a perfect opportunity for the other woman to be a mentor and help her grow professionally. That however, was not the case, the other woman exhibited characteristics of control and indirect aggressive behavior that Ilene would later find out about.
It was a zero-sum game. That there was only enough attention for her, or for me, but certainly not for both of us. You would see those things come through in things like assignments. “Well you were not viewed as being ready for that assignment because this other woman thought that you did not have enough experience in that particular area, or that particular area.” I would think wow, that is interesting because I have all those things in my resume but all right, if that is the way she is putting it.”
My very favorite confrontation was not necessarily directly between the two of us, but it was so, so telling to me. We had a conversation and I said, “You know I recently served on a selection panel.” She was surprised that we had selected a woman to serve in one of the really tough jobs overseas. I said, “This would be a very good opportunity for her because we have not sent a woman to do that job before” and she just looked at me and said, “Well there is a reason that we have never sent a woman to that job. These married women, they are not good to us.” Of course she was single, “She said if it were up to me I would make all of you get a hysterectomy before we would even accept you in to the career field because all you do is get married and then go off and have babies and then you are absolutely not good to us.”
Ilene shared many stories that occurred over a 10-year span. She took what she experienced to heart and became a mentor to other women within the organization. She became adamant about leadership development, saying that some of the best teachers of leadership were the worst leaders we had ever worked for because you learn what you do not want to be.
Female rivalry in a working environment deprives women of female colleagues and companionship. It also keeps women from relying on their natural allies, females. To empower is to make stronger and more confident. When women lift each other up, instead of tear down, the possibilities are limitless.
Are you having difficulty coping with a Queen Bee in your workplace? I can help. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org