Were you expecting a kinder, gentler workplace as women rose to the top and happily mentored younger women on the way up?

A piece on the “Queen Bee” in the Wall Street Journal suggests that this isn’t exactly the way things are working out now that many women are in top positions. Psychology professor Peggy Drexler writes about female bosses who go out of their way to cut off other women at the pass.

Drexler finds “something amiss in the professional sisterhood:”

Having spent decades working in psychology, a field heavily populated by highly competitive women, I had certainly seen the queen bee before: The female boss who not only has zero interest in fostering the careers of women who aim to follow in her footsteps, but who might even actively attempt to cut them off at the pass.

The term "queen bee syndrome" was coined in the 1970s, following a study led by researchers at the University of Michigan—Graham Staines, Toby Epstein Jayaratne and Carol Tavris—who examined promotion rates and the impact of the women's movement on the workplace. In a 1974 article in Psychology Today, they presented their findings, based on more than 20,000 responses to reader surveys in that magazine and Redbook.

They found that women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women. This occurred, they argued, largely because the patriarchal culture of work encouraged the few women who rose to the top to become obsessed with maintaining their authority.

Yeah, blame it on the patriarchy. Drexler ascribes the Queen Bee phenomenon to the comparative rarity of top leadership positions available to women. This seems to me to be bending over backwards to explain away the failure of women leaders to create a nurturing work environment for other women, something we don’t really ask men to do in quite the same way.   

Dr. Drexler might be interested in a story on “Women of Power” in IWF’s old The Women’s Quarterly. Written by Christine Rosen, it was entitled “How Do Women Rule? Just Like Men.”

Queen Bees may use some of the worst feminine tools at their disposal (governing by gossip, for example) to manage subordinates. But other than stylistically, they are, as Rosen suggested, every bit as fierce as men. Rosen took note of the village-razing Boadicea of English history, Catherine de’ Medici, who promoted the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre behind the scenes, and Indira Gandi and Margaret Thatcher. Now perhaps we should add the Queen Bee to the list.

Women, like men, now aspire to get to the top—and we shouldn’t be surprised if, sadly, many of them fail to become nurturing den mothers on the way up. We may be disappointed because we expected them to make the workplace kinder and gentler. But this may have been an unrealistic expectation.  It also seems wrong to dismiss bad behavior on the part of women bosses by blaming it on the patriarchy.

Discuss among yourselves.