Female bosses often get a bad wrap. From Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe-winning portrayal of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (allegedly based on Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour), to the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, to erstwhile City ‘Superwoman’ Nicola Horlick, the stereotypes – as always – do more harm than good.
These extreme representations of powerful women pitch them as aggressive, callous, devoid of emotion and ‘acting like men’.
The concept of the ‘queen bee syndrome’ was first defined by researchers from University of Michigan in 1974, looking at women bosses, whose attempts to retain their position of power came from holding back the other women working around them.
Since then, psychologists have explored various angles; where women in power treat their subordinates less favourably if they are also women, or that women find it more stressful working for other women, for instance.
These aforementioned ‘queen bees’ may have deserved the headlines over the years, but how relevant is the concept in today’s corporate environment?
Tony Langham, CEO at PR firm Lansons, believes such discussions are yet another way of holding women back. He says: “Our time would be better spent discussing how to enable the rise of women, not to undermine the few that have made it to the top.”
He adds: “There aren’t enough women in senior jobs in the City and that’s something that everyone concerned needs to focus on, but there is still resistance. The few women that have made it to the top are still subject to an insidious misogyny.”
So is the ‘queen bee’ becoming extinct? In the hive, while her role is fairly singular – being the sole layer of eggs, it is not a permanent role, and said queen needs to watch her back; if the colony of worker bees find a more suitable replacement they will replace her in no uncertain terms: death to the queen bee?