Women in the Workplace – Are women their own worst enemies?

Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada

When talking with men in the workplace (and even some women) about why women are not making it to the CEO level, I sometimes heard the phrase, “Women are their own worst enemy.”

I bristled every time I heard this remark. I had certainly seen women behaving badly toward other women, and in fact had been the victim of a particularly vicious woman. But certainly this was a singular occurrence, right? What men were doing to hold women back, either consciously or unconsciously, was much worse, right?

It turns out there may be some truth to that quote. In fact, it has been given a name: the Queen Bee syndrome.

Before I go on, let me say this: while this article argues that the Queen Bee does still exist in our workplaces today, my studies show that this plays just a small role in keeping women from reaching the top of organizations. There are many other forces, discussed in previous and future posts, that are bigger culprits. However, it is important that women are aware of the Queen Bee syndrome so they can both prevent themselves from becoming one and protect themselves against them.

First, let’s define Queen Bee syndrome. The term was first introduced in a paper by G.L. Staines, T.E. Jayartne, and C. Tavris in 1973. A Queen Bee is a woman who has risen to at least some level of power and then acts to protect her position, treating female subordinates more critically than male subordinates.

Hollywood has given us several examples of Queen Bees, several of which have become cult classics. Films such as Heathers and Mean Girls show what this phenomenon looks like in high school. Beyond high school we have The Devil Wears Prada, Clueless or countless others. In each of these films, women who are in power go to considerable lengths to keep other women from reaching their level. In this context, it is almost a shame that the Queen Bee makes for such great movies.

In the corporate world, most often the Queen Bee operates from a position of scarcity, believing that there is space for only one woman at the top. This means that the target of her protectionist actions are most likely other women. At the very least, she does nothing to support other women. At the worst, she actively works to thwart the advancement of other women in the firm. Most often, she shows incivility and rudeness to other women in the workplace.

Some social scientists have suggested that the Queen Bee sees the only way of reaching the top is to act like the men who have gone before her. In this way, she overemphasizes the male trait of disliking women – or more generally, the feminine stereotype. She sees “feminine” as a form of failure.

The discussion on whether the Queen Bee still exists in today’s workplace is hotly debated in academic institutions and in the press. Some say she still exists. Others say the Queen Bee is now extinct. A study in 2015 by the Columbia Business School showed that the Queen Bee was now nothing more than a myth. The same results were found in a Brazilian study conducted in 2018, looking at 8.3mil workers across the world.

And yet, a study done at the University in Arizona in 2018 is cited repeatedly in the news, with varying titles such as, “The Tyranny of the Queen Bee,” or “Proof that Queen Been Syndrome Exists in the Workplace.” The original article was titled, “Incivility at Work: Is Queen Bee Syndrome Getting Worse?” In this study, it was shown that women are more rude and more uncivil to other women in the workplace.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, had an interesting and provocative response to this study. She claimed that women are held to different standards, and that when they are not “nice,” they are seen as uncivil when men are not. This could be true – there is certainly plenty of evidence to show that women are punished when they act outside of their stereotypical roles. Because of this, and our tendency to quickly judge, we should exercise considerable restraint when naming an individual as a Queen Bee.

That said, my personal experience shows that there is a strong case to be made that Queen Bees still exist.

What is behind this Queen Bee syndrome? It is largely attributable to a lack of confidence and security in female leaders. They may have faced

So, are there still Queen Bees out there in the world?

My personal experience, and first hand stories from women I have interviewed and spoken with say that yes, the Queen Bee is alive and well. Sometimes she is as blatant as she has always been. And in some cases, she is more insidious than ever before, hiding behind an exterior that would suggest she wants nothing more than to raise women up.

Real-life stories of the Queen Bee sound like this:

  • When asking for a promotion that has been earned (and was (much) later granted), she says, “The best workers often don’t make the best managers. Maybe some other time.”
  • After a year of accomplishing major goals, saving the company significant money, and obtaining several industry educational designations, she also promotes a man who has done none of these things, saying “I think he will do a great job going forward.”
  • In a meeting with high-level officers of the company, she tells her female manager that her data is incorrect, and when the manager attempts to explain, she loudly tells her to “Shut Up!”
  • She belongs to several women’s groups, invites young women along, but then promotes men into the important roles in the company.
  • She coaches women to exacting standards on non-essential skills while coaching men on standards that matter to the business.
  • She picks one or two women to support and does so in a very public way, and treats other women with incivility, often out of the public view.

What do we women do when we encounter a Queen Bee? Here are some thoughts:

  • If the Queen Bee is your direct manager, the best advice is to find a new boss. She is not likely to change or to find more confidence. Save yourself a significant amount of effort and time, and find a boss who will support you.
  • When this is not possible, find ways to support her without threatening her status. This is part of the technique called “managing up.” For example, before presenting something to a larger group, be sure to first run it by her and then to give her some of the credit when presenting it (one assumes she will have added a contribution when you run it by her).
  • When the Queen Bee is not your direct manager, but you need to interact with her, always be professional and do your best to develop a relationship with her. Where there is trust, she will not, most of the time, undermine you.

Women will only get to the top levels of our organizations in large numbers when we are able to recognize that when we support each other in the workplace, we all win.

As a reminder, Queen Bees are not the norm. There are fewer and fewer of them in the workplace, to the point that there are studies showing that their number is quantifiably insignificant. Until they are all gone, however, we need to continue to educate ourselves on this.

Have you experienced a Queen Bee? What techniques did you use to help navigate this situation? Please be sure to share.

As always, stay positive, and have a great day!

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Job Seekers Beware – Not All Advice is Good Advice

Some advice may not be as good as it sounds

I have now been in the hunt for my next big opportunity for over six months. In that time, I have had the chance to try many different methods of searching.

I have applied to positions online. Contrary to popular opinion, I have found success with this method. I’ve had many interviews that resulted simply from submitting an application. And another little secret – I don’t often include a cover letter. My experience in the corporate world says that cover letters are used as a method of eliminating candidates more than anything else. See a typo? See a strangely phrased sentence, or a over-the-top assertion? Eliminate that candidate!

I have “worked my network,” or put another way, I have been to every coffee shop within a 60 mile radius. I love this method of job searching. It gives you the chance to meet with people one-on-one, to practice describing what you are looking for, and a chance to learn about all kinds of new things. Plus, it is proof over and over again that good people do exist and that they genuinely want to help. This is the method most often recommended to job seekers. This morning I heard a statistic that says 70% of positions are found using this method.

I have gone to networking meetings. Many of these have been geared toward job seekers and others are groups I belong to or have some close connection to. Most of the job-seeker networking meetings have an invited speaker, and this is the topic of this blog post.

Let me start with this – everyone who helps those of us in need is doing so from the goodness of their hearts. I believe this from the bottom of my heart. Most of what they have to share is good advice for someone, but what is important to remember, is that it is not always good advice for everyone.

It is essential that those of us listening to this advice keep a critical ear toward what we are being told. The results of not doing so, I firmly believe, could be significant damage to an individual’s search.

Here are two examples of good advice that needs some additional scrutiny:

  1. Your focus should be on how you come across as a person.

This advice was given in a workshop on how to get more interviews. On the face of it, I would say it is sound advice. Give it a little thought, however, and you might come to the conclusion that the whole reason you are not getting interviews is because of some fatal flaw in your personality.

For some folks, I suppose, this might be true. But honestly, if you are changing yourself just for your interview, are you likely to be successful in the position? If you can’t be authentic in the interview, are you likely to feel comfortable being authentic at that workplace?

Even more important, this would indicate that the entire reason you are not getting interviews is your fault! This is dangerous waters for a job searcher. The entire system of job searching is complicated and full of unwritten, inscrutable rules that we may never understand. If we begin to feel that we are the problem, we are likely to become downtrodden and depressed.

It is critical that we keep an arms length from rejection during this process. Learn from it, and move on. Do not internalize it.

2. Before applying for a job, do all the research you can think to do.

This was at another job-search meeting. The speaker was suggesting that before submitting an application, we research LinkedIn, news stories, financials, anything we can get our hands on.

Again, solid advice, maybe. Checking LinkedIn will give you an idea of whether or not you have a first degree or second degree connection in your network. It will help you identify who is in leadership at the target company. This helps you get a better idea of what the culture might be at the company. You can also reach out to those leaders and perhaps network ahead of submitting the application.

Searching news stories helps you contextualize what the current status is of the company – what problems you might be able to help solve, or what situations you might want to avoid completely.

The problem with this advice? If you have to do all of this research before submitting an application, how likely are you to ever apply? And as the saying might be rephrased, you’ll miss 100% of the jobs you never apply for.

This advice is particularly dangerous for women who already put themselves at a disadvantage when applying for jobs or promotions. Research shows that women only apply when they feel they are 100% qualified for a position. Imagine how much information they might find in this type of research to dissuade them from applying.

My thought – submit the application. Then start the research. And only do what is necessary up front. Find the connections and reach out. But don’t worry about the rest until you have an interview. Time is absolutely precious during this process – don’t waste it.

There is so much advice out there. This is only two examples of how good advice can cause trouble in the job search. Be careful, be skeptical, stay positive, and take care of yourself! Know that you are worthy, and that everyone out there wants to see you succeed.

Keep it positive!


Bloomers, Toxic Masculinity and the First Female Buddy-Cops – Feminism Served Three Ways

Cagney and Lacey – Season 1

In the last few weeks, I’ve come across some fascinating sources on feminism. I am avidly curious, and these various sources represent some of the diverse directions my curiosity takes me. One is a news story, one is a podcast, and the last is a 1980’s tv show. All of these have the common thread of looking at the struggles women face in society today, especially as they try to negotiate the world of men.

The first is a story from Slate.com that came across my news feed recently. It is a story of a woman from a local town who, in 1820, shocked her entire town and in turn the nation by showing up at church on her bicycle wearing her bright red bloomers. The story is cute and amusing, and was published in part as a response to the current uproar in the media around women wearing leggings to church.

This attention on the wardrobe and body of women is not uncommon. Not long ago, the women of Hollywood revolted against this, discussing the problems with the focus on “who” the female actors were wearing rather than discussing their next projects or their current achievements. There has been backlash against school dress codes that limit girls and not boys.

Many times, the need for these restrictive dress codes, as in the case of the current discussion on leggings, is unfortunately put in terms of how the clothing affects the men in the situation. In the recent ‘leggings letter,’ the mother writes, “I’m just a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings.”

As many people have responded, it isn’t the girls who need to solve the problem. It is the boys themselves, and society that supports the notion that men and boys just can’t help themselves. We would all do well to do as the preacher did in the 1820s – support the women in their decision to wear what they want to wear.

The second resource is a podcast from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University entitled Scene on Radio. From July through December of 2018, they produced a series called Men, looking at the gender issue through the lens of what it means to be a man.

The entire series is a must-hear for everyone. Over a series of twelve episodes, they cover everything from the history of how patriarchy developed (spoiler alert: cavemen didn’t drag women by their hair!) to an important audio essay of a father interviewing his preteen son on homophobia at school.

I enjoy the discussions that put our current thinking on its head. For example, the host John Biewen shares, “Even within American culture, some of our ideas have completely flipped over time. A few examples: the Puritans thought women were the hornier gender. Most people would not say that today. Cheerleading started out as a guy thing. And a hundred years ago, Ladies Home Journal recommended blue clothing for girls and pink for boys, saying blue was more dainty, and pink the stronger color.”

Another fascinating story he shares concerns the drawings of skeletons in the mid-1700s (episode 3). This was the first time detailed drawings were being made of the female skeleton. For some reason, the drawing that became most popular was an inaccurate drawing produced by a French female scientist showing a skull that was much smaller than the male version, and a pelvis that was much bigger. In reality, there is very little difference between the skull sizes of men and women, and the pelvis is nowhere near as large as shown in the drawing. The drawing, however, was not corrected and taught in anatomy and physiology classrooms for a very long time.

One of the most fascinating episodes is #7. It is almost hard to listen to, but critical that we consider what is going on here. In this episode, a woman who was sexually assaulted examines the reactions of her friends and family to the episode. It is eye-opening, scary, and absolutely real. In this current world of #metoo, it is ever more important that we examine our reactions to these occurrences.

The third resource is just plain fun. I happened to come across the first season of Cagney and Lacey on Amazon Prime the other day. In the first season, only 6 episodes long, and aired in 1982, Meg Foster plays the role of Det. Cagney. She was replaced by Sharon Gless for the rest of the show’s run.

In that first season, one of the major themes in each episode is Cagney’s battle against the gender differences in the police force. In one episode, the women are excluded from a baby shower for one of the male detective’s wives. They are told the reason for their exclusion is potential jealousy on the part of the wives. They show up anyway, of course, and their appearance causes exactly the uproar their husband’s were concerned about.

Another episode, Cagney and Lacey are tasked with providing security for a prominent woman who was a vocal critic of the Equal Rights Amendment. This character says, “[I believe] that every American women has the right to be a full time wife and mother and not be forced to work outside the home.” Throughout the episode, the characters grapple with their opposing views, with the female cops, in the end, saving the life of their charge by using their unique skills of connecting with the would-be murderer. Perhaps having women on the force wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

These three resources are fun, interesting, and educational, and are all ways of understanding the difficulty women face trying to find their place outside of the home. I encourage you to take a look at all of these. Should you have other resources to share, please do so here! I’d love to know about them, and perhaps share them in a later post.

Please also consider subscribing to this blog by entering your email in the form on this page. That way you don’t miss out on a single post.

As always, keep it positive! Have a great day!

In Praise of (Temporary) Unemployment

My son at the beach

For many months now I have been grinding away at the job search. I have been working tirelessly at networking, applying, emailing, and attending meetings and events. When I am not doing that, rest assured I am thinking about it.

In the first few months, I got dressed early in the morning and headed out – to coffee, a presentation, an interview. The days were full. So full, in fact, that I have done many, many interviews/phone meetings sitting in my car because there just wasn’t time to get home. I even did one driving between two meetings (I took unpopulated back roads).

This level of activity has made me happy. I love being productive and on the go. I feel certain that I have been doing everything in my power to find my next opportunity. And I think I am probably right. But it has also been exhausting.

Last year, when the holidays hit, I was forced to slow down. No one was hiring at the end of the year, and it seemed they were all on vacation anyway. I remember being told at the end of November that I was moving on to the next round of interviews, but that they wouldn’t be scheduled until the second week of January when everyone was back in the office. Frustrating. I wrote a post on how to survive.

Even though my calendar wasn’t as busy, my brain still was working. Every waking moment (and many of the rest) were filled with thoughts of what I needed to do next. I was starting to have more bad days than good, to feel more frustration than optimism. I felt guilty if I took some extra time to walk the dogs or hang out with the kids. I spent the entire month of December sick, and got sick again in January and February. And March.

And then a couple things happened. Nothing dramatic or even that exciting (sorry). The first was I hit the seemingly impossible 6-month mark of unemployment. The second was finally getting to the ocean, putting my feet in the water, soaking up the sun, breathing the salt air. I truly believe there is something absolutely magical about the ocean. Those two things in concert have changed my perspective.

So, while I was dutifully recording my blessings from the very start, and I was trying to take time for myself, I now realize that I never really did. I’m going to change that now, or at least try. To start, I would like to share openly some of the amazing blessings of being unemployed (for a short time I hope).

But first, some tips for you:

  1. DITCH THE GUILT – Don’t even bother with it. Sleep in and enjoy it. Don’t worry about what the world thinks. You do you.
  2. EMBRACE THE AMBIGUITY – This process of finding a job is not something you can control. Own that now and relieve yourself of hours of frustration.
  3. FIND WHAT MAKES YOU SUPER HAPPY AND GET IT ON YOUR CALENDAR NOW. LIKE RIGHT NOW. For me it was the ocean. I wish I had gone much, much sooner. 
  4. KEEP A GRATITUDE LIST AND KEEP ADDING TO IT. Review it when you feel low. Put some of it on sticky-notes around your mirror or on your desk or in your car. Share it with a friend. Share it here with me!

And now for my list. Read it for enjoyment, or maybe even for inspiration.

Here is my praise for unemployment:

1. I am meeting new people. I have met at least 100 new people, and all of them have been amazing. All of them! Sometimes our interests align well, sometimes not as well, but in every instance I have come out better for having met. I hope they have too!

2. I am catching up with old friends. The old saying about silver and gold holds true here. Old friends are pure gold. Anytime I am feeling down, I know that all I have to do is get a coffee, lunch, cocktails, or a phone call on the calendar and I’ll be right back up on my feet again.

3. The flexible schedule. I am just now learning to be grateful for this and to embrace it without guilt. The other day I took my dogs out to the woods for a long hike. And it was awesome! Another day I took a nap. In the middle of the afternoon. It was incredible! 

4. The chance to be around for my kids. At least a couple days each week, I am there when my kids get home from school. Sometimes this frustrates us all – they can’t get away with YouTube-ing away their afternoons and I lose a couple hours of “work” – but in general I think these three kids are just about the most amazing people on this Earth and I LOVE listening to their stories about the day. I even managed to bake cookies for them once!

5. The chance to explore who I am and what I really want out of life. To be honest – this one I struggle with. I sometimes feel that the longer I have, the more confused I get on this subject. I keep discovering more sides of myself I want to explore. I performed in a musical! Maybe I want to go back into singing! I’m doing quite a bit of public speaking. I love it! I’m doing some coaching. Maybe I should fully focus on building my own business. Ack! But also YES!

6. Back to the kids – I get to be the one to take them to appointments and practices and rehearsals. In the past, my husband did much of this. Now, I get the chance to support the family in this way. Plus any parent knows some of the very best conversations with your kids happen in the car.

7. I am writing. I have the space to write. And it feels so so so good. Even more, I am learning how to get the validation and productivity I crave by creating something myself. That’s pretty powerful.

8. Getting a clearer understanding of what my needs are vs. my wants. A few months ago, I would not have considered this a blessing. I was angry when a book came up and I had to fight the urge to Amazon that thing right onto my doorstep immediately. Now I have learned to enjoy the exercise of deciding – do I really need that book? Will I actually read it? What about the 24 other books I have in line ahead of this one. Is this one really more important? 

9. Finally – and I still struggle with the guilt on this one – I often get to sleep in. At least a little. My beautiful husband handles all the morning chaos, and lets me sleep. This is usually good given that sleep is hard under this much stress – many nights I don’t fall asleep until well after 2am. I will love him forever for this small, daily gift.

Unemployment is not something I would wish on anyone. I am not having a whole bunch of fun. I am not happy about my situation. It is a stressful rollercoaster that no one wants to be on. But we can get through it. By being positive. By believing that something wonderful is out there – we just need to keep working to find it. 

And in the meantime, we can find ways to enjoy the beauty and gifts we have in our lives. I am so thankful.

Stay positive, and count your blessings!