Yelling, shouting, gossiping, job sabotaging: these and more have been reported as ways woman-on-woman bullying, also known as the Queen Bee Syndrome, happens in our workspaces. The Queen Bee Syndrome is a situation, where women, especially those in high ranking positions of authority, treat other female colleagues who work below them more critically than their male counterparts, in such a demoralizing manner, by undermining their credibility or status, or by manipulating others into thinking less of them.
As published in the Journal of Developmental Learning in Organizations, 70% of female executives feel bullied by other women in their workplaces. They also report that these bullying incidents have stunted their professional growth. In a recent Instagram post, “When did you know it was time to quit your job?” She Leads Africa kickstarted a hard conversation with the community of women that they serve. The responses in the comment section were heart-shattering. Although all these are yet-to-be-verified stories, what any one may find shocking is the number of female employers or female team managers who are not doing so well with the people under their team. With some of these similar conversations regularly happening on platforms like LinkedIn, anyone one could gain insight about work cultures of a few companies, by a detailed social listening.
“Women supporting women” for many, may sound a cliché, as there seems to be a stereotype that shows we have said more than we have done. While there are women who genuinely look out for others, we also know of cases of women who have had a hard time in their various spaces working with/for other women. People have leveraged social media, email enquiries, private networks and public/online workshops to ask questions on how to deal with demanding, harsh, and mean female managers or team leads.
“We are an equal opportunity employer”, these days, may sound like an effort to fulfill all righteousness. Generally, corporate culture expects women to show up at work and do their jobs like they have no personal and family needs to fulfill. In most cases, we preferably search for unmarried women because we do not want the “burden of family women” in our workplaces. Yet as members of society, we also have very high standards for women to manage homes and raise children. This is somewhat similar to refusing to educate a girl child, and then insisting each time she is sick to see only a female doctor.
Women naturally are givers. They give life and make great and often unimaginable sacrifices to nurture loved ones. Studies have referenced that a 1% increase in women’s contribution raises the level of GDP by 58.4%. When women work, economies grow and work for everyone, irrespective of their societal status. To amplify the contributions of women to societal growth and development, we must start challenging the (Queen Bee) barriers that hinder their progress, especially within the workspaces.
Begin by showing GENUINE concern towards women. Most times, women are not asking for much. All they need is that concern and support of other women in the workplace. The generosity of spirit, a second chance, a listening ear, a word of encouragement, compassionate honesty when giving feedback, looking out for one another, making referrals and strongly believing that they will achieve what they set out to do. These intentions should be pure and genuine because time would constantly reveal us as who we truly are. Empathy is useless if we do not learn, at least to understand people, before even deciding to believe them.
Employ and pay them well. We must begin to delete assumptions that only certain kinds of people are fit to do certain jobs. That entitlement gap where we choose to not to employ married women or pregnant/nursing mothers because we consider them a burden or hindrance to the company’s balance sheet should be done away with. Likewise, there is a need to revisit this unannounced quest to have more unmarried women in the team, because they are better “work burden bearers” who should spend all their time at work. Women should be hired most importantly because they are competent for the Role and should be treated, as much as possible, based on the expectations by the industry. Do not just tell the world that your company values are hinged on equality, diversity, equity or inclusion, when it is just for the camera or the impression it will create in the global community; whereas women are paid less than their male counterparts, or employed and treated as an afterthought. Don’t just ask women to save more, when we know they are more likely to earn less; pay them well and encourage them to earn more so that they can keep contributing.
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Workplace culture and economic empowerment should prioritize women’s health. In the private sector, most especially, because there are irregularities regarding labour regulations, more women bear the burden of care for themselves during and after pregnancy. With increasing workplace, family and societal demands, we have seen more women face certain health challenges that hinder their peak performances: cervical, ovarian and breast cancers, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, mental health disorders, infertility and other reproductive health challenges, amongst many others. These issues affect how women show up at work. Whilst those in authority might mean well to enforce balance and make women do their jobs for the good of the organization, these traits, when unchecked, may become toxic and cause more systemic damage.
The workplace that will win in these times and beyond are the ones who help women, and men also, find meaning, beyond the money earned from merely meeting company targets. Prioritise activities that give room for work-life balance. Enrol them in self care and health insurance plans, set up regular free screening to know their health status, encourage conversations in the workplace on issues that affect women from health, and nutrition to lifestyle and family, as these are intertwined . Find out how they can access safe medicines and collaborate/network with necessary people to make that possible. Create a safe space for women to breastfeed in the workplace. People are not robots. People give more when you show them that they mean more than just meeting targets.
Implement policies that address bullying and violence against women in the workplace. Whilst most Nigerian businesses have a no-bullying clause in their rules of engagement, only a few enforce it. Realizing through online and social interactions that most people leave their jobs because of the attitude of team or line managers, implementing the rules and consequences for workplace bullying will not just keep people in check, but will make everyone accountable. Encourage honest and compassionate conversations, instead of yelling and shouting. Provide room for all parties to be fairly and fearlessly heard before mediating. Workplace conflicts among women, cannot be fully addressed if those in the management practice “selective listening” or “selective deafness” to the concerns of women in one cadre, against the other party. Pay attention to all non-verbal cues and seek to know the “why” behind these. With these we build workspaces where women are passionate to contribute greatly and meaningfully, whilst reducing employee attrition rate.
We know that women deserve more. Women can do much more in the right environment. As we celebrate the International Women’s Day globally, it is time for more women, this time, be the first source of peace and support for their fellow women. We should not underestimate the power that comes from our pack as women collaborating on the assignment. The strength is in our unity, not in unhealthy strife and competition.