He who shares his story of…

The “Sisterhood”

The Story

I worked in a male-dominated industry in a leadership position. My father always said his son would follow in his footsteps. I had a female boss who had many years experience in our industry and was nearing retirement. She had been through a lot in her career. She would tell us often about those challenges of being a minority but holding a leadership position and the push back she had to overcome to get there and then maintain that.

I helped to hire a new team member into an entry role in our department. She was eager, intelligent, keen to learn and was driven to excel at whatever we asked her to do. I knew we had picked the right person. I could see she was going to go places this young girl.

It shocked me the first time I noticed it. I didn’t say anything. I thought perhaps it was just a bad day. Soon I realised it happened more often. I watched the face of this passionate new starter in our male-dominated industry get burned by one of her own. Our female boss was making her life difficult. Like she was putting up hurdles in front of her for sport. With there being so many hurdles in her way, she was never going to be able to jump over them all. I remember watching her fall down in front of everyone a number of times. I remember the look of failure on her face as she would pick herself up and come back in the next day ready to demonstrate her capability again. I remember her face looking around the room for someone to notice what was happening, but more importantly, to say something about it. I stood with the bystanders and I said nothing.

It felt like a rollercoaster for the onlooker as we would equally see my boss compliment her. Tell her she was going to go places,. Tell her that she had many great things that would come from her hard work. Tell her that she saw herself within our new, young, eager, intelligent, driven new starter. It was evident my boss felt that our new starter had to learn how to be strong to overcome what my boss had to go through over those many years when she was just starting out in our industry.

My boss was trying to make it as difficult as it was over 30 years ago when diversity and inclusion weren’t spoken of. My boss was displaying the Queen Bee syndrome when this successful woman was using her power to undermine a woman team member rather than helping her to advance.

I was disappointed in my boss, but I was more disappointed in myself. I didn’t say anything. I watched her jump those hurdles for years just like a sport.

The Message

The Queen Bee Syndrome is not a new phenomenon, but it still seems to have an impact in the workplace from time to time. Queen Bee Syndrome is defined as a situation where high ranking women in positions of authority treat the women who work below them more critically than their male counterparts.

In a business environment, a “queen bee” often see other, usually younger, women as competitors and refuse to help them advance within a company, preferring to mentor a male over a female employee. Some such “queen bees” may actively take steps to hinder another woman’s advancement as they are seen as direct competitors.

Fortunately, this “queen bee syndrome” doesn’t exist everywhere. Many companies and industries have fostered environments where there’s opportunity for women to help one another, be mutually supportive and get ahead together.

Young women seek the assistance of older women who have risen into ranks of senior management believing that such women can serve as mentors or advisors to help them succeed. This is important for the development and growth of our future leaders and should be fostered, not discarded.

The Call to Action

This behaviour shouldn’t be tolerated. Great leaders, male or female understand that it is a privilege to lead and they behave accordingly, treating all their team members regardless of gender in a fair, firm and friendly manner.  Creating an environment where people feel supported and trusted to be their authentic self is important to help contribute to the health, capability, competitiveness and the bottom line of an organisation.

Queen bees may be with us but that does not mean that women over whom they have authority or those bystanders who witness such behaviours do not have options. Stand up for what you think is right and don’t let this bad behaviour be considered acceptable. If we all did something to call out behaviours that lead to a gender bias, we will be more likely to succeed in diversity and inclusiveness in our workplaces.

As the ones who have been in the past, women should take this opportunity to revaluate their individual power and transform it into a collective force: to help other women grow, rise through the ranks and call for a different future.