“MY BOSS IS A B****!”: Queen Bee Syndrome at Work and What HR Can Do About It

“MY BOSS IS A B****!”: Queen Bee Syndrome at Work and What HR Can Do About It

Women in top-level positions is a familiar sight in 2018. These Queens hold a lot of power, and the role they play within a firm sometimes gives way to a particular psychological syndrome. What syndrome could possibly affect these smart and successful women you ask? I present to you the Queen Bee Syndrome!

 What is the Queen Bee Syndrome?

It was first presented in the 70’s by a group of researchers from the University of Michigan who studied this phenomenon and defined it as “women operating in male hierarchies sought to preserve their rare turf by thwarting attempts of other women who sought to rise as they had done.” Sadly, such bias still exists in today’s world. The study was later expanded on by scientists from the University of Toronto, who reported that this syndrome might be the reason why women find it stressful to work under a female boss compared to a male one. Strangely this behaviour does not apply to men working under a female manager.

Queen bee sightings

If we think about it, we all had a queen bee at least once in our lives. Just think about middle school or high school years, where Queen Bee Syndrome behaviour starts to show. Adolescent girls start forming groups and willingly or not, these groups get a queen bee that reigns over the group members. This is nonetheless a hidden form of bullying that any of us girls could experience. Queen Bee Syndrome in a workplace is none other than an evolution of a high school setting, where the Queen Bee and her subdued, are just more mature. And that is how instead of having women empowering one another, we end up having a high school like environment where women are hostile and do whatever it takes to hinder one another. And the psychological pressure female workers sustain while working for a queen bee, is the same they were subject to when they were high school kids, trying to be part of a clique.

queen bee syndrome at work

Why do women sabotage other women?

Some studies claim that women are less likely to be bossy when working in a non-sexist environment, but rather the Queen Bee behaviour is more likely to take place in male-dominated sectors. That is when women have power roles, they are discriminated and devalued just for being women regardless of their capabilities or skills, and the Queen Bee Syndrome could be just an adaptive behaviour to fight against such a sexist prejudice.  So there’s an urge to compete against their male counterparts and show everybody they are as good as they are if not even better. Another explanation for this phenomenon would be the eternal competition between women and the fact that, by nature, they are way more competitive with each other in respect to men. So when it comes to success, they are capable of turning into selfish individuals with a tendency to sabotage whoever might get in their way. Unfortunately, this unhealthy behaviour is not limited to a work environment, it is a general issue that we are continually battling: for example, we witness every day on social media hundreds of cases where women are mean and critical instead of empowering each other.

women criticize each other at work

What the HR department can do about it

At the end of the day, queen bees are bullies and as we all know that victims of these bullies are subject to emotional damage and psychological pressure. Studies show that women who have to deal with a queen bee at work, are more likely to develop stress that ends up influencing both their work and private life. Allison Gabriel, assistant professor of management and organisations in the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management said employers could lose women employees who are bullied or mistreated at work. As per the research, workplace incivility can cost employers an estimated $14,000 per employee.

Poor workplace culture results in higher turnover rates, which drives up costs for finding and training new workers and can result in legal claims if the mistreatment also involves discrimination and other laws. Nevertheless, HR departments of organisations should make sure they’re sending the right signals through employer branding and internal workshops, that the ideas and opinions of all employees are valued. And that supporting others is crucial for business success. That is, acting assertively should not be viewed negatively, but as a positive way for employees to voice concerns and speak up.

Also, HR should increase managers’ awareness of this bias when they have to deal with workplace conflicts. And, although I hate to put the onus on women, it also might benefit them to avoid ruminating with coworkers about their same-sex conflicts, since spectators are already inclined to overly dramatise them.