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We all know being a working mum can be tough and lonely. But the daily struggles can be 100% harder if we happen to work with a Queen Bee. We’re not talking about strong, ambitious and assertive women here – the world needs plenty of those.
No, Queen Bees are office bullies. Like the mean girls at school they treat certain people in the workplace in a snide, demoralising or undermining way. Are you the victim of a Queen Bee? You may find you’re being gossiped about and excluded, while your work is often passed off as their own. All this is calculated to hold you back.
Research from the Workplace Bullying Institute has suggested that as many as 58% of bullies in the workplace are women and these individuals most often victimise other women. The study found that Queen Bees choose other females as targets nearly 90% of the time. They are seriously out of step with the sisterhood.
Sad but true. In a recent survey I conducted, approximately 70% of the women who participated had been the victim of open workplace bullying or more subtle psychological undermining by a female boss. Meanwhile 33% of those surveyed had received similar treatment from a woman on the same level or even below them. Queen Bees are not only senior women in an organisation but can also be peers or more junior colleagues.
And in my long career in the banking and technology world I’ve experienced it myself. Just when you might have expected women to band together and support each other, in many instances they were instead diminishing each other — in my case, talking about me or excluding me.
The jury is still out on exactly why Queen Bees exhibit such behaviour. Nearly 75% of the survey respondents thought that this behaviour might stem from insecurity, while other possible causes include feeling the need to be aggressive in order to be taken seriously, or even desiring to be the only “top” woman.
The solution, of course, has to lie in women supporting other women in the workplace. It should be the norm so that when it happens it’s easier to call other women out on it. We can certainly all play our part in supporting other women that have experienced Queen Bee Syndrome. And, of course, a good manager will agree that this is not acceptable behaviour, so if yours is sympathetic, ask for their support.
But how can you personally neutralise a Queen Bee and not be victimised? You need to be proactive and create options for yourself.
Develop Yourself: Sign up for training courses that allow you to improve your industry knowledge and skillset.
Expand Your Network: Join professional networks at your company and within your industry.
Find Sponsors: Develop strong professional relationships with senior decision makers in your organisation that can influence your career.
Explore New Career Opportunities: You don’t have to stay in a toxic work environment. Get out there, speak to headhunters, get interviews and see what other opportunities are available.
Make strong alliances within your industry, so you have some support.
Do Not React When Provoked: Queen Bees love to push your buttons and get a reaction. Remain calm. Do not show emotion. Always be polite and do not engage in gossip or petty talk. Use your energy to develop yourself and expand your network.
And if you’ve spotted worrying signs of Queen Bee Syndrome in yourself take a look at the causes of your insecurity, which will only hold you back in the long-run.
*With over 20 years on Wall Street, Cecilia Harvey is a tech start-up founder, a senior woman working in FinTech, and a champion of diversity in technology. Her previous roles include being the COO of Citigroup Markets and Securities Services Technology, and positions with Morgan Stanley, Barclays Capital and IBM Consulting. Cecilia is also the founder and chair of Tech Women Todayand is currently working on leadership training retreats for female professionals working in corporates or their own business.