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Queen Bee Myth Loses Its Sting

Tuesday, July 28, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Queen Bee Myth Loses Its Sting


When It Comes To Women Execs, Companies Say 'One Is Enough'


By Kelly Henricks
NAPMW President


In the workplace, there are a lot of assumptions -- many of them wrong -- when it comes to women. The list is large, and touches on things like women's ability to lead, women's strength in building high-performing organizations, women's commitment to career advancement. But maybe one of the worst "assumed traits" of women in the workplace is that women are not supportive of other women.


It's called the "Queen Bee Syndrome," the idea that there can only be one high-ranking woman executive, and that she will then actively thwart the aspirations of other women. That it even has a name is testament to how ingrained this idea is. But a new study by the Columbia Business School that looked at more than 1,500 companies over a 20-year period has generated, pardon the pun, a lot of buzz about what's true and what's not in this Queen Bee assumption.


What's not true is that women get in the way of other women. The authors considered and rejected the possibility of a "queen bee" effect - the idea that the first executive-level woman hired would perceive other women as rivals, and work against hiring more. The study pointed out that if that were true, the strongest evidence would be seen at those few companies with a female CEO (since a female CEO would have more say over executive appointments than other female executives would). 


"But in fact, companies with female CEOs did slightly better at hiring a second woman than companies with a woman in a different senior position," the report concluded.


It turns out that it's not women keeping women from advancing, it's men. Knowingly or not, there is indeed often a Queen Bee, a single high ranking woman executive. But that's because once a company has elevated one woman to the executive level, it often assumes that's enough.


A lot of companies talk about diversifying top management. And there has been some gain, but not enough. Women make up nearly half of the workforce, but only 8.7 percent of top managers were women in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, (although that’s up a bit from 5.8 percent who held such positions in 2000).


Given that “diversification imperative,” the study’s authors thought that the hiring of one woman into the executive ranks would likely lead to a snowball effect at a given company. “In fact, what we find is exactly the opposite,” says Cristian Dezső, an associate professor at the University of Maryland and one of the study’s three authors. “Once they had appointed one woman, the men seem to have said, ‘We have done our job.’”


In reporting the conclusions of the report, the University of Maryland was blunt: “Companies work fairly hard to place one woman — but only one — in a top management position… [The research] found evidence of a ‘quota’ effect: Once a company had appointed one woman to a top-tier job, the chances of a second woman landing an elite position at the same firm drop substantially — by about 50 percent, in fact.”


The mortgage industry is certainly dominated by men. Most of them surely want to have a balanced company, and one that’s fair to all employees. They may not even know that they’re constructing barriers to women’s careers. But the evidence shows that women need to overcome assumptions, stereotypes and just plain wrong-thinking if we’re ever going to find true career parity.


That’s why I, and so many others, turn to organizations like the National Association of Professional Mortgage Women. Here, we find a common purpose and support as we keep advancing the needs of women in the workplace. We’re proud to count scores of men as members, too – because we all have a stake in working with the best in the business, be they male or female.


But I’ll also say that, when we look across NAPMW, it’s clear that no one here subscribes to the Queen Bee idea. It’s just the opposite: We’re here to help each other advance, to share advice, and to be the advocate for women in leadership. It’s nice to see that others are also realizing this is the right way to go.


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