Bad female boss? She may have Queen Bee Syndrome

I once heard a quote stating, “In a social context, both women and men prefer to be in the company of men.”

Ouch! Whatever happened to the sisterhood of women?

It's rare to find it in the workplace, according to a few new studies. Three quarters of men said they would much rather work for a man than a woman. A quarter of woman polled found their female bosses to be backstabbing and to have poor personal boundaries when it came to sharing their personal lives at the office. Another study found that female bosses were easily threatened, emotionally unpredictable or irritable. Other negative descriptors for the female boss included, “moody,” “sharp tongued,” “too cliquey” and “vain.”

And the last nail in the coffin? According to the American Management Association, 95 percent of women felt undermined at some point in their career by other women.

Some social theorists initially thought women would make better bosses than men because they could be more supportive leaders, would be more inclined to delegate responsibilities and would foster the careers of their subordinates, most especially their female subordinates. This idealized notion has not matched the general consensus of reality. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

There’s even a term used to describe difficult female bosses: Queen Bee Syndrome.

The Queen Bee boss is the alpha female who tries to preserve her power at all costs. Instead of promoting her younger counterparts, she feels threatened by them, judges them, talks about them and, in many cases, ends up obstructing their attempts to climb the corporate ladder.

This Queen Bee Syndrome — aside from making the workplace gravely unpleasant — can also make a person sick. According to one group of German researchers, women who reported to female supervisors had higher cases of depression, headaches, heartburn and insomnia than if their bosses were men.

So why is this happening? Are women just destined to mercilessly compete with one another? Are female bosses beyond change?

As an eternal optimist, I refuse to accept this syndrome as a permanent state of affairs. We have to look at this trend from a socio/cultural perspective.

For example, there aren’t a lot of top management positions for women — especially when we compare them to men. Female bosses could feel more threatened and less generous about sharing their positions of power as there are fewer opportunities for them.

In some cases, women who reach the top, try to manage like men, yet it doesn’t work as well for them. Men can behave in a way found unacceptable in women. Loud, public directives from the female boss is often interpreted as nasty or offensive. For men, this is not always the case. Perhaps this is because women are expected to be more maternal and interact on a more personal and intimate level.

Women are also trained from an early age to believe that they are valued for being young and attractive. Once they’re not youthfully attractive, they fear being replaced by someone younger, smarter or whatever the perceived competition of the moment seems to be. Men don’t have this same fear. There are a lot of older men in top positions who are considered at the top of their game.

How do we reverse this trend?

I believe as more options become available to women and the workplace continues to expand, female bosses will find their own confident niche. They'll even become the nurturing, supportive bosses that social theorists always believed they could be.