Coming at the reality of gender equality (or lack thereof) from the perspective of a 23-year-old, I’m clinging to my naivety. Part of that naivety was the assumed power of women supporting one another when much to my dismay, that’s not always a given for women. It’s hard to imagine why women wouldn’t support one another given a lot of us face the same discriminatory issues and struggles, particularly within the workplace.
When I first dropped out of university, it was the women of Lean In that I turned to. Unsurprisingly, they took me under their wing, made introductions where I needed them, provided pep talks when necessary and when I needed something that didn’t directly relate to their skill set, they did everything in their power to help in other ways. More importantly, these women along with key female influences within my family and friends circle, taught me just how important it is to lift one another up and provide support as best as we possibly can.
It’s with this approach that I struggle to understand issues such as the ‘Queen Bee’ phenomenon between women in the workplace in which a woman in a position of authority views or treats female junior colleagues more critically. A recent study published in the journal, Development and Learning in Organizations, suggests as many as 70 per cent of female executives feel they have been bullied by a female senior member of staff or boss to the point that it’s hindered their professional growth. In a professional environment, these ‘Queen Bee’ women see younger female colleagues as competition, refusing to help them to advance within a company and preferring to mentor a male colleague over a female. A separate study, published in The Leadership Quarterly concluded this queen bee behaviour is in response to inequality at the top as opposed to the cause. This separation of oneself from a marginalised group is a survival strategy employed by many. After all if you can see for yourself the limited space at the top for people like you, revelation of a competitive streak is arguably understandable. But is it necessary?
Perhaps to overcome these queen bee issues and prevent ourselves from being penalised for supporting one another, we should instead do more of it. Be louder, be prouder and overall, be more vocal about supporting each other. Not only do employees benefit but organisations associated with such support systems among colleagues can also benefit from their established culture of support where employees talent is recognised and rewarded.
Supporting one another in the workplace doesn’t need to be a radical change. For the most part it’s a matter of embracing the small things like reaching out to new women in the company with an open door policy, openly sharing advice with one another from your own personal experiences, showing them that it’s ok to say no to traditionally gendered tasks like making coffee or taking care of the office environment.
If you’re interested in doing something more to boost a culture of support, set up or join a group for women within your work. Similar to the concept behind Lean In, this allows you to specifically connect with other women in your workplace and makes for easier facilitation for mentorship opportunities with junior colleagues.
Coming together as a group to discuss these issues allows women to see that they aren’t alone in their experiences, that their problems aren’t just specific to them but are collective obstacles. This support helps to relieve tensions and anxieties. It reminds us that while our jobs are challenging, we’re not alone.