When the Queen Bee stings — how to successfully navigate your career around Queen Bees

Wikipedia defines the “Queen bee” as a woman who treats her female subordinates more critically than their male counterparts. It can also describe a woman who has succeeded in her own career only to pull up the ladder behind her. It is long maintained that this corrosive phenomenon is rooted in the misguided perception that there is only room for one woman at the table, but I was surprised to learn that research now theorizes that queen bees are simply trying to emulate the men in an attempt to fit in. Plain and simple, they suffered so should other women, it’s like living through middle school again.

We are all too familiar with the current trends of changing jobs a few times over a long career. What if staying and growing in a job is the right thing to do. When we stay with a company the good work and relationships we build are our equity that we need to protect. The more good work and positive relations, higher our equity. When the queen bee is taking away the hard earned equity, it is our responsibility to protect and nurture it to advance in our own careers. This equity may be used when asking for a new project, a promotion or recognition. There are a few strategies that you could use to assess your own situation and work out the best option if you ever run into a situation where someone is trying to sabotage your career.

To start with recognize the signs.

  • They put you on the defensive — Do you constantly feel you must protect yourself or your interests because you are unsure or threatened.
  • Distract you — Are you constantly distracted by this person
  • Leave you out — Are you deliberately left out of important work-related conversations
  • Spreading rumors — Do you hear things about yourself from others that are not true
  • Taking credit for your work — Is someone taking credit for your work
  • Plant things in your head — Are you made to believe things that are not true. Watch out for gossip about your boss or team mates, comments on your work or blame.
  • Trust your instinct — Your gut feel says something is not right
  • It’s just stressful
  • Tough to have a rightful conversation verbally or through emails.

Humans are attuned to a fight or flight response, making us instinctively decide to start looking for a new job. But, is that always the right thing to do? As women, we often tend to take decisions based on emotions. It’s very important to take a step back and assess your situation. A few things to consider are:

  • Take care of yourself and emotions — The first step is to take care of yourself and wellbeing so that you can think more rationally.
  • Isolate yourself from the situation and person as much as possible — Keep interactions professional, work related and if needed isolate yourself from the situation till you can come up with an action plan.
  • Quickly nullify the accusations to the people involved. Continue to build strong relations with co-workers. Have 1–1 conversations with the people important to your success and clean up the damage.
  • Retaliate rightfully –Understand your boundaries, power and exercise them
  • Don’t let it slide when you are attacked.

You have considered all the above factors and decided to stay. What are the steps you can take to remedy the situation and continue the path of your chosen career and company.

  • Don’t assume bad intentions — give the person the benefit of the doubt, be thorough in gathering information and proof.
  • Be alert, maintain constant vigilance — be on the alert, watch for attacks direct or indirect.
  • Confide in a co-worker(s) — Focus on building allies and your support network.
  • Confront the culprit — open up the conversation and understand what may be going through on the other person’s side.
  • Don’t sabotage — Be the bigger person, when they go low you go higher (as Michelle Obama puts it). Be the best version of yourself. Keep it professional.
  • Trust Battery — This is a phrase coined by the Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke. When you join a company the trust battery is at 50%. Then we have these interactions, we just talk about an idea, we come up with something even better, we work well together. The battery slowly charges. When you practice this the focus shifts towards the trust that exists between two people without actually becoming personal.
  • Take it to your manager or HR. Seek support. Help them build immunity.
  • Continue doing a good job and make some noise. Let your boss know about your goals and results.
  • Keep your skills current, continue networking.

You have navigated your way through a tough situation, how can you use this experience to grow into a better leader.

“Great leaders, male or female understand that it is a privilege to lead and they behave accordingly, treating all managers, peers and subordinates in a fair, firm and friendly manner.”

  • Self-Awareness — This is the first step to overcoming Queen Bee Syndrome.
  • Understanding your identity — What was your purpose for becoming a leader? Consider if your values are aligned with those of your organization? Or do you feel misaligned in your role?
  • Who are your leadership role models? — Are those qualities aligned with your own natural qualities or do you have to flex too much to assume that persona? This may be leading you down the path of the Queen Bee. Modelling the right leadership traits that fit in with your identity can minimize the “characteristics of Queen Bee”.
  • Uncovering leadership blind spots — We all have them and they’re always difficult to see, but there are multiple ways to uncover those tricky areas such as self-assessment or taking behavior profiling tests specializing in “leadership blind spots”.
  • Practice Conscious Leadership — Being self-aware of one’s thoughts and emotions and the meaning you give them.
  • Get External Support — Working with a Leadership and Behavior Coach will allow you to face your greatest fears without judgement, implement bespoke strategies and action plans outside of the confines of the workplace ensuring your skills remain relevant and transferrable, and behaviors continue to be managed and coached.
  • Authored by Anusha Ganeshan — Indian Women Professionals