Queen Bees

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”

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Teams and Diversity – not so simple

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colored_puzzle_connection_1600_wht_9893Current thinking is that diversity is a good thing.

Diversity is claimed to increase creativity and the quality of work and there are several examples of where this has proved to be true.

However a review of research over 50 years (described by Elizabeth Mannix and Margaret A Neale at Cornell and Stanford universities respectively) shows it’s not all good news.

More worryingly researchers at MIT, Harvard, and other institutions found it was difficult to support a business case for diversity in terms of financial RoI.

Mannix and Neale define diversity as; “any personal attribute that someone else may use to detect individual differences“.

How and why a company diversifies is critical. Without proper management or worker training diversity can damage performance.

The ways managers recognise diversity e.g. by race, age, gender, or ethnicity, can have negative effects on collaboration and affect group performance, commitment, and satisfaction negatively, perhaps because they trigger preconceived biases and stereotypes.

Racial diversity, for example, was found to damage team processes. On the other hand less obvious, underlying differences such as functional background, education, or personality, tended to improve team performance as long as it was managed effectively.

Earlier research ( Jehn, Northcraft & Neale, 1999) differentiated between social category diversity such as age and sex; informational diversity such as education and functional role; and value diversity as measured by differences in goals and values.

With social category diversity heterogeneity positively influenced group member morale; differences in informational diversity increased task conflict i.e. differences of opinions, which enhanced group performance; and values diversity decreased individual satisfaction and commitment to the group.

Other research (by Pelled, Xin & Eisenhardt, 1999) found that whether or not diversity is job-related is important. Diversity in functional roles and background beneficially intensified task conflict which improved cognitive performance whereas racial diversity, which is highly visible but not related to the job, boosted affective conflict ie it increased interpersonal tension and emotional conflict and depressed group performance.

Age diversity lowered affective conflict but gender diversity didn’t seem to make any difference either way to group performance. The longer groups worked together the less the emotional conflict. This is in line with Hackman’s work on teams.

Another interesting finding is that university department’s with high proportions of women don’t necessarily welcome more of them. Increasing the proportion of women made it a more negative environment for them. This might be explained by the Queen Bee phenomenon.

Research, admittedly 30 years ago, suggested that men were happiest in a male or female dominated settings but not where there was gender balance which led to lower self-esteem and depression. It’s hard to believe that is still the case although the same research showed the women preferred either gender equity or male-dominated work-places. That may still be the case as most women say they prefer a male boss.

More recent research suggests that adding women to a team can make it collectively smarter (unless they are given feedback in a group setting) but adding women to boards doesn’t necessarily make the company more successful – it depends on their experience and competence, as evidenced by high performing NHS boards.

So what can managers do to harness the talents of a diverse workforce more effectively?

  1. As the research shows just having a group of superficially diverse people i.e. easily identifiable by race, gender, or age, doesn’t work, perhaps because these factors are not job relevant or because of stereotyping.
  2. Clearly picking the right people for the team regardless of their social categories is important. Then having functional or educational diversity and rites or rituals, common values and goals helps. As does the culture and any training (although diversity training doesn’t work).
  3. Information needs to be kept flowing and the influence of minority members enhanced (giving them a voice as the corporate anthropologists at a recent Global Leadership conference would say).
  4. Exploratory team tasks such as fact-finding and research are better served by heterogenous groups, whereas exploitation of knowledge to accomplish a task is best served by an homogenous group. Unless there is a matrix/project management type structure in place this is difficult for a manager to achieve with a fixed team.
  5. Another disappointing finding about teams is that when making decisions they focus on shared information rather than the information that hasn’t been shared. But the better connected the team members are the more likely they are to risk sharing their unique information.
  6. Values and goals diversity was mentioned earlier and there is evidence that having superordinate goals and shared values can overcome many of the differences in a diverse multi-national group especially when the shared values are collectivistic rather than personal.
  7. One key finding is that minority views need to be heard as these views can enhance creativity and problem-solving ability in the team. So the manager needs to create a tolerant environment with an emphasis on interdependency to reach cooperative goals that recognise the minority viewpoint. In practice many organisations weed out mavericks or people who managers might consider difficult and prefer to clone what they already have. HR people should know better!

Based on “Diversity at Work” by Elizabeth Mannix & Margaret E Neale in Scientific American Mind August/September 2012

Queen Bees revisited

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P1010435Reading a “Women need not fear female bosses” headline in the Sunday Times reminded me of Putin saying ” the West need not fear Russia” earlier in the week.

Researchers at Columbia University in New York are saying that the real reason for a shortage of women at the top is down to men determined to hold on to their power. The findings are being presented to a conference for heads of girls’ schools.

This contradicts earlier research from 1973 that suggested women in positions of authority treated female subordinates more critically and essentially held back their promotions.

This study of top management teams at 1,500 companies was carried out over a 20-year period (I wonder if they took into account changing attitudes over two decades?).

They found that when a women was appointed as CEO it was more likely other women would be promoted into senior positions.

However when women were appointed to senior jobs below CEO the likelihood of other women following their example was reduced by 50%.

Analysing their data the researchers concluded that it was most likely men excluding women from the boardroom.

Women face an implicit quota, whereby firms seek to maintain a small number of women in their top management team, usually only one” say the researchers.

So the researchers concluded that the “Queen Bee syndrome” is a myth.

And on a positive note female bosses pay staff more, regardless of their gender.