“They want to see you do good but never better than them. Remember that.”
It’s not the most empowering of quotes but it came to mind when I thought about International Women’s Day. The world may be fighting for female equality, but it’s important to acknowledge the societal pitfalls that hinders real progress – and the fact that women may be at fault.
Women have made great strides in the last few years, which sets a positive example for the upcoming generation. Donald Trump’s election sparked a huge interest in politics. As of January 2018, The Cut reported that over 390 women are planning to run for the House of Representatives. This figure is the highest it’s been at any point in American history. Meanwhile Aston University discovered that the number of females setting up their own business in 2003-6 compared to 2013-16, rose by 45 per cent.
The #PressforProgress theme supports “narrowing the gender pay gap” and “breaking glass ceilings.” It’s a noble sentiment, but what about other issues like unequal pay and tackling the uncomfortable reality of the “sisterhood ceiling” – where women are actually holding women back.
Yes, it goes against the grain when our timelines are being flooded with messages of solidarity. It’s almost as if criticism means you’re against the movement. It doesn’t. We should celebrate great women, but we should also address issues within our gender group – like the Queen Bee syndrome.
How does the Queen Bee syndrome affect progress for women?
According to the BBC the term was first defined by psychologists at the University of Michigan in 1973. It describes a woman in a position of authority in a male-dominated environment who treats subordinates more critically if they are female.
Is there any truth to this? Well, yes.
A study by the British Journal of Social Psychology looked at how professors viewed their Ph.D students. Results show that ‘despite having equal publication records and levels of work commitment, the female professors (but not the male professors) tended to believe that their female Ph.D. students were less committed to their careers than their male students.’ This wasn’t exclusive to all female professors though, only the older generation. This difference in attitude could be reflected in the environment in which these women progressed.
The Atlantic explains ‘for that older generation, it was extremely rare for a woman to climb the ladder and become a full professor. By the time the younger women arrived, it was much more common. Thus, perhaps it was something about the context in which older women rose up the ranks (fewer women, more barriers, more sexism) that explained their behaviour.’
Stereotypes about women at work like being less competent than men, more emotional and bitchy may fuel a need for them to set themselves apart and prove they’re a viable candidate for leadership positions.
This kind of strategic mindset could even be triggered by being in an environment where females are devalued. And if this is the case, then surely it’s important to change this convention by helping others?
Do women just need to love themselves a bit more?
Another – somewhat subjective – reason for some women not helping others could simply boil down to how they see themselves. Noticing qualities that they wished they possessed can develop into resentment simply because they view this as a threat.
I’ve seen this in the workplace where female colleagues don’t acknowledge other people’s achievements.
Even the society we grow up in nowadays works against us. You have an explosion of social media and insane celebrity ideals that have females striving for perfection. This in itself fuels competition where we view the seemingly glossy lives of others and draw direct comparison. Whether it’s smooth skin or materialistic items, today’s digital world can easily foster damaging feelings towards other females.
Women who fall into the Queen Bee syndrome aren’t beyond help. According to The Atlantic, ‘women who have experienced gender discrimination but who more strongly identified with their gender don’t react to such bias by trying to distance themselves from other women. Instead, a study found that policewomen who highly identified as women responded to gender discrimination with an increased desire to create more opportunities for other feamles.’
Speaking from experience as well, there’s everything to gain from being inclusive and supportive of others – male and female. Since starting up the Women’s Writes Network with two friends, we’ve met some incredible ladies and continue to build our community. I’ve also gained a female mentor who is supportive of my aspirations and actually motivates me to take steps to make those dreams a reality.
We may feel like in order to protect what’s ours we need to abandon softer qualities associated with being a woman. But instead of focusing our 3rd wave feminist eyes on men, let’s hold women accountable when needed and see what happens when we shatter that sisterhood ceiling first.