The lack of women leaders, especially senior women leaders, has triggered much discussion globally.

While more women than men are university graduates in 97 of 145 major and emerging countries worldwide, women make up the majority of skilled workers in only 68 of those countries and are the majority of leaders in only four countries.i

Moreover, women currently hold only 4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.ii

CCL provides a single–gendered leadership training program for mid-career women. During training, participants discuss factors that hinder their career advancement. In most discussion groups, someone will mention the lack of support from senior women. For these mid-career leaders, a big challenge is that, those women who have broken the glass ceiling do not sponsor, promote, or support their career advancement. These senior women are sometimes called “queen bees.”

The “queen bee syndrome” is such a common perception that it has been captured in movies. In The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep portrays a stereotypical queen bee, an alpha woman who is capable and holds power, but who is critical of subordinates, especially women subordinates.

Undoubtedly, queen bee is a negative image. A stereotypical queen bee bullies subordinates and obstructs other women’s career advancement. They are seen as selfish, insensitive, and power hungry. If a senior woman leader has a reputation as a queen bee, women in less senior positions often are advised to avoid working with her.

However, before putting blame on the queen bees, it is worth asking:

Is it possible that senior women leaders are unwilling to support other women leaders because doing so could unfairly penalize these senior women leaders?

Emerging Leadership Trends Report

Additional Contributing Author:
Maw-Der Foo, PhD, is an associate professor and acting head of the Division of Engineering & Technology Management at the National University of Singapore. He is concurrently a guest professor at Ghent University (Belgium) and received honorary professorships from Nankai University and Jilin University. He is a faculty affiliate at the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy. He is interested in fair trading practices and sits on CaseTrust’s advisory council. Maw-Der’s research applies management concepts to understand entrepreneurial processes. He serves as an editor of Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice and on the editorial review boards of the Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Perspectives, Journal of BusinessVenturing, and Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal.

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