There has been a lot of commentary recently about ‘Queen Bees’ in the workplace, and whether or not this is a real phenomenon. What is a Queen Bee? There are two ways of looking at it. Based on research done by Staynes, Jayaratne and Tavris in the United States in 1973, it a theory that some women in senior management, or other leadership roles, treat women working below them in an inferior manner to men in the same position. Other researchers – and quite a few ordinary women and men – see it more as women who have already enjoyed a measure of success, refusing in turn to encourage other women who are on the way up, and actively promote them.
Last month saw the release of a Columbia Business School study that, over the last 20 years, has been tracking 1,500 companies to see if the Queen Bee is a truism, or true. It was actually a fairly underwhelming result, as although apparently women did, and do, feel supported and encouraged by other women in the workplace, the study placed the majority of blame on men for the continuing marginalisation – one could even say bullying – of women at work.
Tweet This I can’t help but feel this is counter-productive to us moving forward in a collaborative manner. How can we drive change if we continue to point the finger squarely at one gender, when quite frankly, there are equally big leadership problems out there, irrespective of sex?
What sort of problems? There may not be solid social proof of the ‘Queen Bee’ theory as a whole, but there is a worryingly large number of women and men who use their position to intimidate, demean, and badger their staff and co-workers into submissive roles. Perhaps the way to look at them is more of a wasp than a bee; they are there to sting, to hurt, and to inflict pain, whether it be emotional, or even physical.
Their intent is to make the workplace one of discomfort.
Much like wasps, these leaders are predatory and aggressive. They see the workplace not as a hive of activity and group thought, but rather as a nest of potential trouble – for others, that is. Bees are natural collaborators; they work for the greater good, and to see a profitable outcome, and one could even say wealth, for all. Wasps, on the other hand, go on the attack without warning and without reason.This is often the case with leaders who are in a space of personal imbalance and who are unable to look outwards. They attack because they have no mechanism to do otherwise – it is, for them, their only form of defence.
This is becoming more and more evident as we move further into the Age of Information. As knowledge, insight, and the ability to innovate and think quickly, clearly and beyond the boundaries of the normal becomes an increasingly valuable commodity, it is those managers and leaders who cannot adapt – or refuse to – who are striking out. That sting in the tail is coming from a place of insecurity and a failure to grasp the need for adaptability. It has nothing to do with being a woman in business, or a bloke. It has everything to do with attitude and ability, and whether or not disruption is a part of your mindset.
I have watched with great pride and pleasure the buzzing of some amazingly brilliant younger bees this week. In not one of them did I see a hint of that waspish nature that – I have to say it – tends to plague some of the older corporate warriors amongst us. It gave me great hope for a very sweet future. At the same time, I stay concerned about the possible effects on some of these up and coming leaders.
If all they are viewing is a swarm of negativity, what sort of example are they being set?
Time, if you will excuse the pun, to create a bit of a buzz – and maybe Queen Bees could be turned into positive images of women who lead by example.
After all, they run the hive.