glass ceiling

Queen bees still buzzing around

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It’s seven years since I first posted on this topic asking whether they were the victims or the oppressors. five years ago other researchers were saying the phenomenon didn’t exist.

Well it does according to recent research report which shows that 70% of female executives report being bullied by other women trying to block their ambitions.

HSBC global banking’s consultant Cecilia Harvey said “Queen bees are women who treat colleagues in a demoralising, undermining, or bullying manner.They are adult versions of the mean girls from school”.

She surveyed 100 female executives and found 70 had been bullied by their female bosses while another 33 had been undermined by women on the same level or below. She said “research suggests that 55%of workplace bullies are women and they often victimise other women. Queen bees target women almost 90% of the time”

So it’s not just sexist men that hold women back and as organisations strive to increase the number of women at the top they need to take the Queen Bee phenomenon seriously.

You might expect women to band together and support each other rather than diminish each other but that’s not what Harvey experienced. In my experience when women bully they do it on personal issues which can be quite hurtful but hard to prove.

According to research in the journal Development & Learning in Organisations, Queen Bee syndrome occurs where women use “social intelligence” to manipulate relationships or damage colleagues’ reputations. It can be the biggest hindrance to women advancing in the workplace

The Chartered Management Institute, which has a Women Network, says “Women should not be smashing through the glass ceiling only to pull the ladder up behind them”


Well bred dimwits get best jobs and more gongs

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green_stick_figure_stand_out_crowd_1600_wht_1832An analysis of the latest honours list shows how well public school educated men do in being awarded honours.

Research last year also showed that low achievers from an affluent background are 35% more likely to be higher earners when they grow up than bright children from poor backgrounds.

A girl who scores poorly on an IQ test at age 5 doubles her chances of earning high wages if she goes to a private school rather than a comprehensive school. A boy who scores low at the same age is 18% more likely to be in the top fifth of earners at age 42 if he goes to a private school.

It helps if your parents have a degree. It boosts boys’ earning prospects by12% and girls’ by 17% if they’re high attainers i.e. in the top 40%. For low attainers i.e. in the bottom 40%, it boosts girls’ prospects by 100% and boys’ by 69%. Children from better-off families score higher on cognitive tests e.g. IQ tests, than those from poorer backgrounds as they have better nurturing. There is even a correlation between the social background of a child’s grandfather and their career prospects.

So much for social mobility. The affluent classes have pulled up the drawbridge behind them when it comes to career opportunities.

Alan Milburn, chairman of the Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC)  said there was a glass floor as much as a glass ceiling holding people back. The commission published a report last June called Social Mobility, Opportunity Hoarding and the Glass Floor

He said “No one should criticise parents for doing their best for their children. But Britain is a long way from being a meritocratic society when the less able can do better than the more able”

The report warns that while it is politically palatable to improve the chances of bright disadvantaged people it is less so for them to accept that the better off might lose out.

When there is limited room at the top you can’t improve social mobility unless it goes both ways.  And as the Labour Force survey I posted about in November shows, there is still a class gap in earnings depending on your background.

Milburn wants the disadvantaged to be given the “support, advice and development opportunities” that better-off middle class families take for granted. He also wants to reduce what the report calls “opportunity hoarding” for example by urging employers to ensure that “internships aren’t reserved for those with the right social contacts. It’s a social scandal that all too often some demography is destiny in Britain”

Women and Leadership. Too nice? Too bossy?

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women_calculator_desk_1600_wht_7996Leaving aside the whole issue of women on FTSE100 boards and the Norwegian “Golden Skirts” have women finally cracked the glass ceiling?

Well according to Herminia Ibarra and her colleagues, writing in the September 2013 HBR, persistent gender bias disrupts the learning process of becoming a leader.

They are talking about what they call “second generation gender bias“. Not direct discrimination but things like the paucity of role models for women, career paths and jobs that have become entrenched with a gender bias, and women’s lack of access to sponsors and networks.

They also talk about the double binds facing women. In most cultures leadership is associated with masculinity. The ideal leader, like the ideal man, is decisive, assertive, and independent. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be nice, caretaking, and unselfish.

Research shows that female leaders who excel in traditional male domains are viewed as competent but less likeable than their male counterparts. Yet research shows that female CEOs are trusted more than male ones and can add real value to teams.

Behaviours that suggest self-confidence or assertiveness in men often appear arrogant or abrasive in women. Female leaders who adopt a feminine approach to their work may be liked but not respected. They are seen as too emotional to make tough decisions and too soft to be strong leaders.

Yet research carried out by Zenger and Folkman in 2011 on over 7,000 executives using 360 degree feedback, showed that women were rated higher than men at every managerial level. However the higher in the hierarchy you went the more men there were. So were companies promoting the right people?

They used 16 competencies in their research, which they had identified as being the most important in terms of overall leadership effectiveness.

These were:

  1. Takes initiative
  2. Practices self-development
  3. Drives for results
  4. Develops others
  5. Inspires and motivates others
  6. Builds relationships
  7. Collaboration
  8. Teamwork
  9. Establishes stretch goals
  10. Champions change
  11. Solves problems and analyses issues
  12. Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  13. Connects the group to the outside world
  14. Innovates
  15. Technical or professional expertise
  16. Develops strategic perspective

Comparing mean scores for men and women the women scored significantly (statistically) higher than the men on 12 of the 16 traits – and not just the ones that women are known to be better at. They scored the same as men on connecting to the outside world, innovating, and technical or professional expertise.

The only trait where men scored higher was on developing a strategic perspective.

So what’s to be done? Ibarra and her colleagues don’t suggest anything dramatically new or innovative.

Progressing to leadership positions means leaving behind your old professional identity and learning new skills (have a look at Charan’s pipeline model).

That can be scary so having supportive mechanisms in place such as providing leadership programmes, mentoring and coaching (and I find in my coaching that women are less defensive and often respond better than men), and providing a support group or a safe space – perhaps an action learning group – can make a real difference.