So what’s with this label—Queen Bee Syndrome?
A syndrome by definition is:
- “a group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease, psychological disorder, or other abnormal condition;
- a complex of symptoms indicating the existence of an undesirable condition or quality;
- a distinctive or characteristic pattern of behavior” (The American Heritage Dictionary, fourth edition)
Who wants to be considered diseased or undesirable? Not me!
So, what’s the issue?
Life in the business world is not as primeval as a bee hive, although the buzz can get vigorous. Our roles, relationships, and aspirations keep shifting unlike the structured patterns of the hive.
Our work lives are impacted by women or men bosses we often get by the luck of the draw. We expect men to be strong and directive, competitive and aggressive. But, when they are, we don’t say they have King of the Lion Pride Syndrome.
Our challenge in the workplace is learning how to adapt to the different leadership styles and goals of the women and men around us.
Fair or foul?
Dr. Robi Ludwig, psychotherapist and TODAY contributor, wrote this recently about some unspecified studies/surveys:
“Three quarters of men said they would much rather work for a man than a woman. A quarter of woman polled found their female bosses to be backstabbing and to have poor personal boundaries when it came to sharing their personal lives at the office. Another study found that female bosses were easily threatened, emotionally unpredictable or irritable.”
Are these findings (such as they are) enough to support a syndrome? Not surprisingly, 75% of men would prefer to work with men. I assume that’s because there would be a natural comfort level. But 25% preferred working for women.
75% of women polled did NOT find their female bosses to have those negative traits. Is that data enough to debunk the syndrome?
Although she did not coin the term, Ludwig goes on to write:
“The Queen Bee boss is the alpha female who tries to preserve her power at all costs. Instead of promoting her younger counterparts, she feels threatened by them, judges them, talks about them and, in many cases, ends up obstructing their attempts to climb the corporate ladder.”
It may surprise you that nature’s Queen bee does NOT directly control the hive. Her sole function is to reproduce. To fulfill that role, she relies on worker bees to meet her needs for food and waste removal. The hive operates as a team where roles and goals are clear. So somehow the Queen Bee label for business women doesn’t really work.
I was one of these powerful women bosses before there were many in the corporate world. As a senior manager for over 20 years in a Fortune 500, I worked daily with the highest levels of leadership across all functions of a male-dominated energy corporation.
Here’s what I saw: Certain men aspiring to power positions who:
- sidelined younger counterparts they felt competitive with
- obstructed and/or delayed growth opportunities for them
- gossiped about them (yes, gossip among the men was alive and well)
- jockeyed to make sure those counterparts wouldn’t get in their way
Those aspiring men looked for every opportunity to align with the right people to enhance their own brands and minimize others’. Their behaviors were never considered a syndrome.
The labeling trap
Individual labels that get attached to us are unavoidable in business and in life. Some are valid and others not. Managing that is the challenge we all share.
Labels like Queen Bee Syndrome can become barriers to working together effectively, learning how to overcome obstacles, and adapting to style differences. To me labels nearly always get in the way.
How valid or invalid is the Queen Bee Syndrome label to you, considering your experiences? Time to weigh in.
Photo from zhezhe2010 via Flickr