A queen bee has one of the most responsible tasks in a hive: she is responsible for the survival of her entire colony. Transferred to the business world, the metaphor of queen bees often stands for particularly successful women in business, science, industry or politics who are well aware of their positions but do not accept any (female) competition. The queen bees are not to be confused with the so-called alpha women, who with their growing position also feel their responsibility and thus feel obliged to pass on their knowledge and also support others in their professional development.
A queen bee does not accept competition
Indeed, it is most obvious at trade shows: competitive thinking and elbow politics are the order of the day here. The motto here is: “Swim with pleasure: The harder the better, but my position is taboo!” I can no longer count on one hand the number of times I have had to hear counter-arguments to the women’s quota from women, as these have not existed until now either and the queen bee also had to fight her way onto the throne hard and with a lot of sacrifice. Advancement through networking or a quota is called the “easy way out” and is treated with contempt, and every potential competitor is viewed with suspicion. Already in my article about the so-called Eris principle I reported about the competition as well as discrimination among women, but nowhere this becomes so clear as in an encounter with a queen bee.
Job interviews from hell
“Welcome to the insane asylum” was often the thought that went through my mind when I applied, while the queen bee present sharpened her stinger. No qualification is good enough, professional experience is questioned and questions violating personal rights were justified with economic interest on the part of the company management. If one’s own opinion turns out to be contrary to the common one, the queen stabs and does not accept any misstep in this regard. If one does not react as hoped, she withdraws and exercises her power from the background.
Many workers and only One who profits
The queen bee loves her workers and can’t get enough of them. They are hardworking, have her back, prepare the most important information, are loyal and do not complain – that’s the queen’s point of view. During my professional career so far, I have been fortunate not to have had a queen bee as a superior, even though I have often observed traits of such. Colleagues were not so lucky. “Family life has no place in a job”, “If you want to move up, you have to be present and work hard” and “If you want a qualification, you can finance it yourself”.
Over a glass of wine or a cup of tea/coffee, I can’t count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard my business colleagues complain about the arbitrary rule of their superiors, but fortunately everyone has managed to “escape” from the coercive regime. Incidentally, the queen bees are also quite male (unlike in nature).
“Your work is my success”
It becomes bitter in cooperation with queen bees when they sell other people’s work and successes as their own. Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly fine to adapt concepts and personalize their application. However, this does not apply to the clumsy exploitation of employee creativity. Creating concepts, working them out and proudly showing them to the boss, only to have her present them 1 to 1 in a meeting, that has certainly happened to some people. It is worse, however, when this happens, for example, in workshops, books or scientific papers, with which the person ultimately distinguishes himself before the entire college.
There is only one solution: leave the building
You cannot “defeat” a queen bee in the classical sense, and if you do try, you usually lose yourself. Objective argumentation comes to an end at some point, since no value is placed on it, and if one does land a hit, their retaliation is unexpected and very painful. The most effective approach here would be to resign the role of “worker” and leave the construction. Fortunately, as humans, we have more options than our naturally assigned role (procreation, food intake, etc.) and so can easily choose to take a different path. If you encounter a queen bee in a context where there is no dependency relationship (e.g. at a trade show), I would always advise: unless it costs you too much energy or effort, sting back and let the queen bee feel her own venom, but only insofar as you do not lose yourself. In a dependency situation, you take your qualifications, professional experience and creativity and leave the construction where your own development opportunities are obviously limited.
In the end, only a relaxed approach to such queen bees will help you, because in the end you know: Unlike alpha women, who build a network of solidarity, mutual support, goodwill and empathy around them, queen bees will always depend on their female employees, and if they constantly flee, their rule begins to crumble.
In German, this Queen-Bee syndrome is also often referred to as mare biting.
About the author
Kinga Bartczak berät, coacht und schreibt zu Female Empowerment, neuer Arbeitskultur, Organisationsentwicklung systemischen Coaching, und Personal Branding.
Zudem ist sie Geschäftsführerin der UnternehmerRebellen GmbH und Herausgeberin des FemalExperts Magazins.