It’s dubbed the “Queen Bee Syndrome”– when women in authoritative roles in the workplace treat other women, usually subordinates, worse than men might.
A University of Arizona study recently reported that despite men being behind the majority of reported sexual harassment cases in the workplace, it’s women versus women when it comes to the majority of incivility cases.
“Sometimes I think we get in our own way – women aren’t always nice to each other,” said Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code founder and CEO. “I talk to women who didn’t get paid [parental] leave and now are in senior management positions and they’re trying to make other women go through the same hoops and hurdles they went through.”
The study included researchers from Southern Methodist University, Indiana University, and the University of Iowa. They surveyed men and women who worked full-time about their experiences with discourtesy in the workplace. The groups were asked questions about instances when coworkers put them down, made rude remarks, or were condescending to them.
The results showed that it was women who most often displayed rude behavior to other woman employees.
“This isn’t to say men were off the hook or they weren’t engaging in these behaviors,” said Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. “But when we compared the average levels of incivility reported, female-instigated incivility was reported more often than male-instigated incivility by women in our three studies.”
Poor workplace environments can lead to employees leaving, which can result in spiked costs for the recruiting and training of new hires. It also has the potential of giving the company a bad reputation.
“Organizations should make sure they also send signals that the ideas and opinions of all employees are valued,” said Gabriel. “And that supporting others is crucial for business success — that is, acting assertively should not be viewed negatively, but as a positive way for employees to voice concerns and speak up.”
One law associate told The Atlantic that some of the male partners at her law firm could be either curt or nice, but it was the female partners that were considerably tough on the female associates. She said the behavior of these women made sense to her because they had worked hard and sacrificed a lot and so there was an expectation for associates to walk the same path.
“There’s hostility among the women who have made it,” she said. “It’s like, ‘I gave this up. You’re going to have to give it up too.’”
Instead of providing insight and mentorship, these women have more of a hazing mentality when it comes to females who rank below them in the professional hierarchy.
“We have to check ourselves,” said Saujani. “Men are standing back and watching. Nothing will ever change if we women don’t share opportunities with each other. ”
Women being negative toward other women does not help the fight for equality among men and women in the workplace. Women should be praising the success of other women – and vice versa, women in leadership roles should make more effort to be a mentor, not just a critic.
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