The Queen Bee Syndrome
The Queen Bee Syndrome
Queen bee syndrome was first defined by G.L. Staines, T.E. Jayaratne, and C. Tavris in 1973. It describes a woman in a position of authority who views or treats subordinates more critically if they are female. This phenomenon has been documented by several studies. In another study, scientists from the University of Toronto speculated that the queen bee syndrome may be the reason that women find it more stressful to work for women managers; no difference was found in stress levels for male workers. An alternate, though closely related, definition describes a queen bee as one who has succeeded in her career, but refuses to help other women do the same.
Very often, this behaviour seems to be mimicked in the modern workplace: A female – often the only such female – in a senior or authoritative position in a predominantly male workplace would do everything in her power to keep other females from advancing through the ranks. Subsequently, other studies have also shown that token females in high-ranking positions and work groups are less likely to include both moderately and highly qualified female candidates in their group than women in lower positions, although some opposing views have also started to emerge.
It did not take long for popular media such as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal to pick up on the phenomenon of alpha females protecting their hard-earned status in predominantly male working environments. Articles on how these women reportedly maintained control, engaged in ‘turf wars’ with other females and displayed an attitude of ‘being downright unhelpful and rude to other women whom they feel threatened by’ soon started to appear.
Although young females would often seek out older, successful females to guide them in their careers, more often than not those females have no interest in acting as mentors and may even ‘actively attempt to cut [their younger colleagues] off at the pass’. These queen bees of the workplace reportedly see themselves as ‘large and in charge’. Although this does of course not apply to all females in senior positions, the matter is serious enough to warrant further investigation.
In essence, queen bees do not behave as would be expected, and to a large extent ignore the needs of female colleagues aspiring to advance their careers. Contrary to the high value that the female gender generally attaches to socialising, small talk or family talk, the queen bee is solely task- orientated, micromanages and displays old-style management behaviour, which leads to alienation and demotivation of female colleagues. These effects are strikingly similar to the negative effects experienced by victims of workplace bullying. The queen bee’s attempts to block the advancement of fellow females in the workplace can hardly be described as a labour transgression. Instead, when a female senior executive undermines the confidence of younger female colleagues reporting to her by being unwilling to take their calls, distancing herself from them, refusing to build a working relationship with them and denying her female protégées any assistance in the workplace, this is tantamount to yet another form of gender-specific bullying.