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DTCI: 'Queen bee syndrome' in the workplace – true or false?

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dtci-thompson-stacyAnyone who has watched “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Working Girl,” or “Melrose Place” has seen the female boss who has worked her way to the top while undermining other women who can only wish they were that boss. This type of woman now even has her own name: the queen bee. Backed by years of research, the “queen bee syndrome,” which suggests women in positions of authority will treat female subordinates more critically than the male, has long held prominence in society.

If you are a woman trying to make it to the top of a law firm, can you expect a higher-ranking female attorney to take you under her wing? Do you need to undermine other women in order to advance or treat other women as threats?

Some studies have found that women often fail to help other women break the glass ceiling. These studies have suggested that female executives may fear that another woman with lesser qualifications could reinforce negative stereotypes about women. The studies have also suggested that a woman may feel threatened by highly qualified women and worry that they may be more qualified, competent or popular with co-workers. These studies have also found some female executives wanted to avoid appearing biased toward other women, so they did not advocate for them.

In an essay titled, “Why I’d Rather Work for a Man than a Woman,” Forbes contributor Susannah Breslin suggested that women should avoid other women in the workplace altogether. Breslin wrote:

“Tired of women-on-women jealousy at work? Nip that in the bud by eliminating women from the equation. Most women have had an experience with a female superior who wouldn’t let her advance because the woman in power was threatened. You might be insulted men see you as less of a threat, but that may be what enables you to climb up the ladder.”

However, a recent study found that the queen bee stereotype is not as prevalent as some think it is. This study showed that women are actually more likely than other men to help female coworkers advance their careers. It suggested that women do not view female subordinates as competition to be cut down. Rather, women view less-experienced female coworkers as potential talent and are more likely than men to develop that talent through mentorship. The study also showed that women who received career support went on to return the favor to the next generation.

Do women help or hinder each other in the workplace? Are female attorneys mentoring and developing the next generation of female attorneys? Are female attorneys helping other female attorneys advance? Whatever your opinion regarding the queen bee syndrome, law firms should consider these studies when it comes to attracting and holding on to a diverse group of attorneys. Attorneys should be taking an active interest in developing new talent. Almost all of the studies show that when men and women take an active interest in developing both male and female talent, everyone benefits. Of interest to most, some studies have even shown that both men and women who developed protégés actually earned more money than those who did not.•

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Ms. Thompson is a partner in the Bloomington firm of Clendening Johnson & Bohrer and is a member of the DTCI board of directors. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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  1. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  2. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  3. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  4. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

  5. I'm not sure what's more depressing: the fact that people would pay $35,000 per year to attend an unaccredited law school, or the fact that the same people "are hanging in there and willing to follow the dean’s lead in going forward" after the same school fails to gain accreditation, rendering their $70,000 and counting education worthless. Maybe it's a good thing these people can't sit for the bar.

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