How Queen Bee Syndrome Affects Capacity

August 18, 2015  |  Leadership


If you’ve picked up a newspaper or overheard any conversation on television or your local commuter train lately, you know that wage equality is a hot topic within the corporate world. Women earn on average 77 cents to a male-earned dollar and there are many shouts to change it. Many cry that we need more women in management, that by moving women into higher ranks that the situation will begin to correct itself, and that by running things that the equality in pay and opportunity will even out.

Well, not necessarily.

A recent study conducted by the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business entitled, “Agents of Change or Cogs in the Machine? Re-examining the Influence of Female Managers on the Gender Wage Gap,” observed the salary changes of employees of both sexes when they switched from reporting from a manager of the same to the opposite sex. The study pointed out that previous research that stated that as more women rose to managerial roles that their female staff would benefit in a multitude of ways —including salary — was contradictory.

This study points to other reports of women who have risen through the ranks suppressing the progression of other women. Called “queen bee syndrome”, it would actually reveal that women might actually be part of the problem.

As a matter of fact, the study goes on to reveal that relative to their male counterparts who made the switch from a same-sex manager to that of the opposite sex, women who made the same switch were forecasted to earn 1.4% less. Women who worked for female manager were also said to have experienced a slightly negative impact on their salaries.

Complicated, isn’t it?

Whether we’re being told to lean in or out, there’s going to be a lot of scrutiny on this one. We can lay blame, we can point to interpersonal politics between women that have existed in one way or another for centuries…or we can borrow a page from captains of industry and realize that personal politics have no place in the workforce. Queen Bee or Worker Bee, discriminatory policies and backbiting have no real place in the professional place because, quite frankly, it’s bad for business.

If this study points to realities that exist within the current workplace, it’s troubling to say the least. It means the lie of scarcity that women have been fed for decade upon decade — that there aren’t enough good opportunities to go around — is alive and well and causing us to climb on top of each other like lobsters in a pot. The only way for all of us to move up and accomplish more is to create opportunities for each other where we all make more money and improve in position and prestige. When women move into positions of power and authority, creating and expanding corporate capacity becomes the goal, and if more women are trained to grow and expand the organization, everyone can move up accordingly. Playing favorites or squelching the careers of other women as a woman in management is bad business, and it’s cause for turnover and the continuance of an insecurity that has to stop: that someday, someone younger than us will take our spot. If we’ve crafted the bench of talent appropriately, that shouldn’t really be a concern: not only do we know who’s taking our role, but we’ve also created our next opportunity so we both can progress.

It is my sincerest hope that all business decisions should be made on the merit of someone’s character, that the power of the paycheck should be reflective of performance. The only way we will ever truly reach equality is if top performers are paid equally for raising the bar for our businesses. With coaching, time, and the development of a strong bench of talent of both sexes paid equally, we all win in the end.

There really should be no queen bees within corporate structures. We’re all working to protect the hive, the business that sustains our beings. Capacity is the key to peak profitability, and equality is one of the tools we must use to get there.


Rita Trehan is the Founder and Principal of Rita Trehan, LLC, a change management and leadership advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, emerging technology, and cutting-edge organizational design. As a seasoned top executive that has successfully transformed organizations at the Fortune 200 and beyond, she has extensive experience working with CEOs and top corporate management on process and organizational improvement for maximum profitability. A soon-to-be published author, Rita regularly speaks at industry conferences around the world. You can contact Rita on twitter at @rita_trehan and connect with her via LinkedIn. Rita’s blog can be found at

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