Queen Bee Syndrome - Is this the new HR buzz-word?

Submitted by Dawn on 25th October 2018

Queen Bee behaviour, HR, women in workplace, discipline, grievance

The answer is a definitive ‘no’ (but it was fun getting the pun into the headline).  The concept of Queen Bee syndrome has been around for decades.  

First identified by T.E. Jayaratne, G.L. Staines and C. Tavris in 1973, the term describes a woman in a position of authority, who treats or regards subordinates less fairly, simply because they too are women.

There have been several instances of studies documenting this phenomenon.  In one instance, scientists from the University of Toronto surmised that Queen Bee syndrome could be what causes women to find working for women managers stressful.  Their comparative study showed no change in stress levels for male workers, whether their superior was female or male. 

A different, closely related, definition defines a Queen Bee as one who has had to fight hard to succeed in her career but doesn’t want other women to enjoy an easier ride to the top.

Research shows that the more extreme the ratio of women to men in the workplace (the more isolated she is), the more likely Queen Bee syndrome is likely to occur.  Other studies have supported these findings, showing that token females in high-ranking positions and work-groups are more likely to exclude both highly and moderately qualified female colleagues in their group.

When these studies first emerged, key media outlets, such as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal were quick to turn the spotlight on the phenomenon of alpha-females protecting their hard-earned status in predominantly male working environments.  Articles soon began to appear reporting how these women would habitually establish and maintain control over their lower-ranked female colleagues.  There were allegations of full-on ‘turf wars’ with other women, alongside stories of unhelpful attitudes and rudeness to other women perceived by them as a threat.

And of course, Hollywood pitched in with the popular 2006 comedy, The Devil Wears Prada.

What are the symptoms of Queen Bee syndrome?  Well, it could be female senior executive undermining the confidence of younger female colleagues

- avoiding their calls

- not replying to emails

- distancing herself from them

- refusing to build a working relationship

- allocating harder targets than those given to male colleagues

A common scenario might be where young women, out of a sense of admiration, seek out an older, successful superior, hoping for career guidance or mentoring.  In response, they will often receive a firm rebuttal.  In more extreme examples, the senior woman might extend her unhelpfulness to actively trying to ‘cut their younger colleagues off at the pass’.  

Queen Bees certainly don’t follow behaviour patterns usually associated with their gender.  Perhaps it’s no surprise that they’re less likely to socialise after work or indulge in small-talk.  The typical Queen Bee is fully task- oriented.  She will be a manic micromanager and often display old-style management behaviour.

So - what’s the solution?  Queen Bee behaviour must be treated for what it is - workplace bullyingThe symptoms are the same.  The effects are certainly the same - demotivation and alienation of female colleagues.  The response must be the same.  Victims must be encouraged to seek a sympathetic ear from the appropriate source - either HR or an alternative colleague from ‘higher up the line’.  They must insist on appropriate support and a fair resolution to this unpleasant and ultimately destructive pattern of behaviour.

At Gravitas HR, we’re discipline and grievance specialists.  If in any doubt about how to take the sting out of Queen Bee syndrome or any workplace unpleasantness, just get in touch.

Remember - we’re here to help.

Call us for straight-talking HR advice - 01604 763494

Or email - info@GravitasHR.co.uk