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The Queen Bee Syndrome - Fact or Fiction?

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

Over the course of my career, I have heard some women say that they can't work directly with other women. I have also heard men say that women don't work well together. If you have one woman report directly to another it will result in chaos.

Is this true?

As a woman, how well do you work with other women?

Whether you are a manager, or boss or a subordinate reporting to another woman, do you maintain a cordial supportive relationship with the women around you?

As a man, what is your experience with the women you work with?

Do they work well together?

If not, why? What happened?

Please share with me in the comments section.

It is normal to have some level of friction among members within a work environment regardless of gender, but do women have more issues among themselves than men or are men just better at handling it?

Many have attributed friction between women in the workplace to the queen bee syndrome. In this write up, we will take a look at what it is and how it can affect productivity in the workplace.

In this write-up we will discuss the following:

What is Queen Bee Syndrome?

The Queen Bee syndrome was first defined by G.L. Staines, T.E. Jayaratne, and C. Tavris in 1973.

It describes a woman in a position of authority who views or treats female colleagues and subordinates more critically than their male counterparts.

The ultimate Queen Bee is a woman who makes it to the top of her profession but refuses to help other women reach the same heights, and in some cases even makes it harder.

You want to make it big?
Be a Queen Bee.
Be ruthless, be cutthroat, and don’t forget to kick the ladder down once you’ve reached the top.

Why Do Women Develop This Syndrome?

Research shows that women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times more likely to oppose the rise of other women

The few women who rose to the top sometimes became obsessed with maintaining their position and authority.

Below are some detailed reasons why some women behave like this. The syndrome is usually a survival mechanism and is displayed.

  • When women feel disrespected or undermined

  • When they feel their position is being threatened

  • When they are trying to survive or get promoted in a male dominated environment

  • When they are told they are not sufficiently aggressive or assertive

  • When they think they are too soft or emotional

  • When they want to prove they are not biased or partial to other women.

Woman intimidating another woman

What do Queen Bees Do?

Instead of nurturing the growth of younger female talent, they push aside possible competitors by chipping away at their self-confidence or undermining their professional standing. They cause division and subject other women to their dominant behaviors. They use verbal abuse, bullying and sabotage to unsettle and frustrate their female subordinates. This is sometimes done to intentionally hinder the progress of the subordinates thereby eliminating any possible competition.

Because some women found it very difficult to climb the corporate ladder, and they had no help or support from those above them so the younger women coming behind should also pass through the same strenuous process. They consider that these women should equally prove their worth just as they had.

"Afterall, no one gave me any favours, I worked hard to get to where I am, why should you expect an easy ride?"

Where Does the Queen Bee Syndrome Manifest?

This syndrome can manifest among women in different social circles, at work, in social clubs, in the family etc some common examples are;

  1. Within organizations between superiors and their subordinates

  2. Between two managers in the same organization, or two staff on the same level.

  3. Client – Vendor relationships

  4. Vendor – Client relationships

  5. Outside the office; Mother-in-Law – Daughter-in-law etc.

Why is Queen Bee Syndrome Harmful?

The first challenge is that a queen bee situation will create internal inefficiencies which will lead to external implications affecting your products, services, customers and clients, which in turn will result in financial losses.

  • It creates hostile work environments

  • It breaks down the employee-leader relationships

  • It discourages the work ethic of those being abused

  • It could lead to mental health challenges of the victims

  • It suggests dictatorship, not teamwork.

  • It suggests we reign over (and probably eat) our young

  • It heightens mistrust among women

  • It means sabotaging everyone else competing for your slot.

  • It makes women hate each other instead of them supporting each other

Traits of a Queen Bee from a Subordinates Perspective

  • I never do anything right

  • She is always shouting and talking down at me.

  • She makes me look stupid at meetings by shutting me down whenever I try to contribute to the discussion.

  • My ideas or suggestions are always stupid.

  • She sets impossible deadlines then screams at me when I don't meet them.

  • She lectures me for hours if I make a single mistake but never acknowledges what I do right.

  • She gives vague instructions, when I ask for more clarity, I am told that "I am stupid," and I should "be proactive and use my initiative". If I get the assignment wrong, then she continuously reminds me of how "daft I am and good for nothing".

Traits of a Difficult Subordinate from a Managers Perspective

  • Is very rude and disrespectful

  • Intentionally flouts instructions

  • Goes over your head to your boss with information and issues that should be handled by you.

  • Intentionally does not meet deadlines so you get into trouble with your own superiors or have to do the work yourself to meet up.

  • Always has a "tangible excuse" to be off work so her workload is passed to other team members, or you end up doing it yourself to meet company deadlines. e.g. sick, domestic emergency, laptop not working, can't access email, etc

  • Gossips a lot and spreads false information causing discord and confusion.

  • Intentionally withholds important information/observations that could help the team/company just to make you look stupid.

  • Is not a team player, intentionally plays "the victim" and makes it look like you are witch hunting her.

As a subordinate have you ever had a manager who has displayed any of these traits?

As a manager have you ever experienced the "subordinate from hell?"

Share your experience with us in the comments.

There is a program currently on Netflix - "As the crow flies," the series clearly demonstrates how terrible a subordinate can be to an unsuspecting superior.

Research has shown that most women leaders possess behaviour traits such as;

  • Empathetic

  • Collaborative

  • Nurturing

  • Supportive

  • Understanding

  • Emotionally sensitive

But some women assume male leadership characteristics; this may lead to women in executive positions being excessively assertive and aggressive.

They use humiliation, negative reinforcement, and create a hostile work environment. These women may believe that using dominating behaviors is necessary for them to become and remain successful in leadership positions.

Peer to Peer Challenges - What is the Issue and What to Do?

One woman feels threatened or intimidated by the other

One party feels the other has undue privilege

One party wants to demonstrate power within her own space or sphere of influence

What to do

  • Come down from your high horse – be humble

  • Be respectful

  • Look for areas of common interest and try and break the ice

  • Let the other party feel they are in charge – focus on what you need to get out of the relationship

  • Let them know you are not competing by your actions

How Not to Get Bitten by a Queen Bee

Serve But Don't be Servile

  • Do your job well

  • Serve your superior / boss

  • But don’t do it to the detriment of your health

  • Make sure you strike a healthy balance

  • Don’t let your career or health suffer

Be Respectful

  • Be respectful to your superior

  • Don’t compete with her, allow her to be the boss

  • Manage your domestic issues effectively

  • Ensure you are excellent at your job – don’t give room to justify complaints against you

Be Flexible

  • Be willing to do a bit more than your job requires

  • Take advantage of opportunities

  • Participate in training and cross training

  • See transfers and new assignments as a good thing not a punishment


  • Communicate, communicate, communicate!

  • If you have personal issues, let your superior know

  • Seek to work out a way where you can fulfill your official obligations and have time to sought outyour personal issues

  • Work extra hours or on weekends to meet up with deadlines and outstanding work

How Not to be a Queen Bee

Be supportive and understanding

  • Be observant and vigilant – sometimes your staff may have personal or domestic issues they are dealing with

  • Show empathy when required

  • Have an open-door policy

  • Make your staff feel comfortable discussing personal issues with you

Don't Overly Pass the Pressure Down

  • As a leader, manager, business owner etc we sometime experience intense pressure to deliver

  • Don’t overly pass the pressure down to your subordinates

  • While you need to let them know the extent of urgency, don’t become abusive

  • Absorb the heat from above and filter it down

Don't Pass the Buck

  • Take responsibility for your subordinate or teams failure

  • Don’t expose your staff weaknesses to superior authority

  • You can have a personal word with staff involved later to discuss weaknesses and failures and work out ways to overcome or improve

Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

  • Discuss what was done right, what was done wrong and areas that need improvement

  • This should be both ways i.e superior – subordinate and vice versa

  • Try and understand the other persons perspective

Offer the Help you Never Had

  • Take your mind back to when you were a subordinate, what would you have liked your superiors to do for you?

  • The bad superiors – what didn’t you like? Don’t do that.

  • The good superiors – what did you like? Do that.

Celebrate Your Wins Together

  • Celebrate your wins as a team, together

  • Give credit to your subordinates when they deserve it

  • Appreciate them when they do well

  • Give small rewards when the job is done well eg buy them lunch, give them time out, grant a request etc

Last Note to Female Subordinates

  • Don’t undermine her authority

  • Let her know she is in charge, and you are not competing

  • The situation is not permanent, it could be your turn soon don’t create unnecessary enmity

  • Understand she has her own pressure and challenges too

Last Note to Female Managers

  • Not all female subordinates are bad or competing for your space

  • There may be underlying issues she is dealing with – give her a break

  • Each individual is different - treat each person on their own merit. Don’t use your experience with Jane to deal with Janet.

  • Avoid reporting issues to senior authorities – seek collaborative means to resolve issues

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

Last Note to both Parties

We don’t have to like each other but it is better if we do.
We don’t have to like each other but we DO have to work together for now, the situation can change tomorrow
We are both women – why should we become confirmed enemies.
Let's keep the bigger picture in mind and know there is a better tomorrow

Remember to

#Inspire #Influence and #Impact your world

Written by Lady Shayo Imologome Business Growth Strategist, Management Consultant, and Keynote Speaker

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