Career Woman

How to overcome Queen Bee syndrome


You’ve recently been promoted to Manager? Congrats!  This is the first step in your leadership career. Like many who’ve risen the ranks before you, you’ve been doing a brilliant job in your previous position and have the technical knowledge to be considered an expert within your organisation.

Now it’s time to focus on some new skills.  Being a leader means you’ve now got a bigger platform to make an impact, meaning greater visibility for everything you say and do.  As a result of this visibility, common leadership blind spots will potentially be put on display for all to see, and if you’re not self-aware, you could be branded with “Queen Bee Syndrome”.

How do you know if you have Queen Bee Syndrome?

“Queen Bee Syndrome” is common.  It has been captured in movies such as The Devil Wears Prada, via Meryl Streep’s unforgettable character, Miranda – based on the real-life antics of long-time Vogue Editor Anna Wintour.

As Miranda, Meryl Streep portrays a stereotypical “queen bee”; an alpha woman who is capable and holds power, but who is critical of subordinates, especially women. Queen bee evokes a negative image. A stereotypical queen bee bullies subordinates and obstructs other women’s career advancement. These women are seen as selfish, insensitive, and power-hungry. If a senior female leader has a reputation as a queen bee, women in less senior positions are often advised to avoid working with her.

Why does Queen Bee Syndrome occur?

The first step is understanding it all comes down to the INTENTION behind the BEHAVIOUR.

If you’ve worked hard to climb (or rather claw up that corporate ladder), you’ve done the hard yards. It wasn’t easy, but eventually you made it.  Now that you’re there, the next hurdle is to stay there.  How is your uncertainty about the future of your role and company playing a part in your leadership attitudes and motivations?  Are you leading with fear?

One explanation for this fear, is our change as a global society, from an abundance mindset to a scarcity mindset. World events such as the GFC in 2008, and even ongoing terrorist attacks since 2001 can be blamed for this fear.

Other factors have been and are likely to be ever present in our society – such as downsizing and layoffs, company closures, mergers and acquisitions, offshoring of jobs, the gig economy and the rapid growth of technology and AI replacing jobs.

All these factors above underpin our greatest fears such as: Staying Employed/Job Security/Stability, feeling undervalued and working long hours to show commitment (this is all as a result of FEAR and scarcity mindset).   We are all fighting to remain indispensable to our organisations. Holding tenure or rank within a company no longer grants us immunity from being made redundant.

While fear can come from such external drivers, leaders can become derailed and take on Queen Bee tendencies if fear comes from internal drivers.

Threats to a leader’s internal mindset can also lead to the “Queen Bee” within. These include imposter syndrome, impacts on friendship within the organization due to the promotion, male dominated leadership environment (feeling out of place, or needing to change to join the ‘boy’s club’), feeling insecure, tall poppy syndrome, unconscious bias, workplace mobbing or a tendency to practice tough love.

Solutions to overcoming Queen Bee Syndrome:

With both internal and external factors contributing to “Queen Bee Syndrome”, there is a lot to be mindful of when assessing the drivers and intentions behind your behaviour.

Some tips are:

  • Understanding your identity – What was your purpose for becoming a leader? Consider if your values are aligned with those of your organisation? Or do you feel misaligned in your role? Check for fatigue/stress/anxiety or lack of energy.  How’s your health? Do you easily come down with the flu more often? Or do you suffer from frequent back, gut or headaches?
  • Who are your leadership role models? – Are those qualities aligned with your own natural qualities or do you have to flex too much to assume that persona? This may be leading you down the path of the Queen Bee.  Modelling the right leadership traits that fit in with your identity can minimize the “characteristics of Queen Bee”.
  • Uncovering leadership blind spots – We all have them and they’re always difficult to see, but there are multiple ways to uncover those tricky areas such as self-assessment or taking behaviour profiling tests specialising in “leadership blind spots”.
  • Practice Conscious Leadership – Being self-aware of one’s thoughts and emotions and the meaning you give them.
  • Get External Support – Working with a Leadership and Behaviour Coach will allow you to face your greatest fears without judgement, implement bespoke strategies and action plans outside of the confines of the workplace ensuring your skills remain relevant and transferrable, and behaviours continue to be managed and coached.
  • Self Awareness – This is the first step to overcoming Queen Bee Syndrome but it’s in the continued application and being held accountable by a coach that will shift and eliminate Queen Bee Syndrome from a leader’s style.

About Paula Dunn'

Paula Dunn of No Limits Consulting is an International Award Winning Speaker, Leadership and Behavioural Specialist. She has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world. Paula utilises her 20 years of Scientific Research, Leadership and Positive Psychology experience and unlike many programs, Paula has reverse engineered a course that mitigates the challenges women are facing in today's workforce. We are here to serve girls in Senior Years of High School who are on a mission to make a difference in the world their way! Our mission is to help young women create confidence to conquer life. We do this because we believe that cultivating a leadership mindset in teenage girls will set them up for success in work, relationships and life.

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