Calling for the End of the Queen Bee

Last week, the online buzz among professional women revolved around three narratives: criticism of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In approach, criticism of Marissa Mayer’s no at-home-work policy, and a Wall Street Journal, essay titled The Tyranny of the Queen Bee.

Illustration credit to SunnyGu on Etsy

Illustration credit to SunnyGu on Etsy. Click the photo to visit her shop.

In the work place, Queen Bee is the derogatory term used to describe successful women who oppose the rise of other women.

Regretfully, every working woman seems to eventually run into one. I am no exception having personally been stung a few times in my career. One of the most painful occurred in the last few months when a woman in my community with the power and influence to easily open a door for me, snubbed requests from a prominent supporter and from me to do so.

Although we are loath to encounter Queen Bees, we must acknowledge the ways we make it hard for women to be successful. When we criticize women – like Sheryl Sandberg who are dedicating their own time, resources, and experience to help other women succeed, and women like Marissa Mayer, who in the face of significant business challenges employ a range of strategies and tactics to drive results, or women like Anne Marie Slaughter or Hillary Clinton, or the woman who works next to us, or the woman we work for – we weaken that woman’s power.

In beehives, bees raise their queen. This is very similar to what happens in the workplace. When businesses have only one woman in an executive role or on their board, they create environments that can produce queen bees. When women who already sit on multiple corporate boards continue to personally accept more and more board positions without also insisting that other qualified women be selected they are labeled queen bees. When we don’t reach out a hand to mentor a woman or invest in another’s business idea, we perpetuate the scarcity of women in executive roles. We need to shift our perspective and raise one another to create a swarm of powerful women, not just one Queen Bee.

When we weaken the power of one woman, we weaken the power of all women.

It’s important to realize that when we weaken the power of one woman, we weaken the power of all women. When we weaken the power of women in workplaces that already have way too few women, we contribute to further reducing the number of successful women and we end up with only one woman survivor at the top – the Queen Bee.

So how do we not only bring on the end of the Queen Bee, but also raise a multitude powerful women?

  1. We stop criticizing and start supporting the efforts of women. We listen, observe and contribute as allies not competitors. We acknowledge that each woman is trying her best and is working within her own unique area of expertise to make a positive impact in the part of the hive she lives and works in.
  2. We work with organizations and governments to structurally change workplaces that consider themselves gender diverse because they have one woman executive or one woman director.
  3. We work on explicit and implicit biases that until there are an equal number of qualified men and woman at the most important tables.
  4. We each personally commit to extend a hand to other women, offering our time or our treasure to help them realize their full potential. We share advice or point out land mines as a peer, role model, mentor, sponsor or investor.

At the end of the day:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the (wo)man who points out how the strong (wo)man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the (wo)man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again… in the end, the triumph of high achievement…shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Extracted and modified from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic,”
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

International Women’s Day is Friday. We hope you will celebrate with us, and commit to the four actions above to support other women and not only bring the end the reign of the Queen Bee, but help raise a multitude of powerful women for the benefit of all.