The queen bee phenomenon in management and marketing

Myth or truth?

Term Paper, 2019
11 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Table of c ontents

List of abbreviations

1 Introduction
1.1 Issue statement
1.2 Goal and approach

2 Queen bee phenomenon
2.1 Indicators
2.2 Consequences
2.3 Empirical evidence
2.4 Discussion

3 Conclusion and research implications

List of references

List of abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Introduction

1.1 Issue statement

“There is a special place in hell for women that don’t help each other.” (Harvey, 2018, p. 1)

With this quote, Madeleine Albright (former US Secretary of State) expressed the urge of women to support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in the last presidential elections of the United States (Arvate, Galilea, & Todescat, 2018). Her words are not only applicable to politics, but also to business. Anyone who watched movies such as “The Devil Wears Prada”, “Melrose Place” or “Working Girl” has seen female bosses who worked their way up to top management while undermining other women in the workplace. This type of attitude even has its own name: “queen bee” (QB) (Thompson, 2012). When speaking of the queen bee phenomenon (QBP), research refers to “women who pursue individual success in male-dominated work settings by adjusting to the masculine culture and by distancing themselves from other women” (Derks, van Laar, & Ellemers, 2016, p. 457). Interestingly, pursuant to typical gender stereotypes, women engage in processes of forming alliances, collaborate and join together with shared aims through behaviors which demonstrate loyalty and gender awareness (Mavin & Williams, 2013). Although much of the research of female leadership is built on those assumptions of sisterhood and solidarity, the expectation may not be fulfilled in practice (Arvate et al., 2018). Instead, women in management and organizations often neither are friends, nor do they cooperate or support each other (Mavin & Williams, 2013). Sometimes this may even result in female bullying in the workplace (Crothers, Lipinski, & Minutolo, 2009). These observations could be explained with the QBP. However, it is essential to find empirical evidence for this phenomenon.

1.2 Goal and approach

The goal of this paper is to answer the question whether the QBP is a persistent myth or unvarnished truth in a business context. For this purpose, an in-depth literature review will be conducted including indications, consequences and recent empirical studies on the topic of QBs. In the next step, findings of the mentioned aspects will be discussed in order to justify the research question. This paper then concludes with an outlook and implications for further research.

2 Queen bee phenomenon

2.1 Indicators

The theory of QBs was first defined by Staines, Tavris, and Jayaratne in 1973 (Blau & DeVaro, 2006). On the basis of social identity theory, the phenomenon can be interpreted as a response to social identity threat (Faniko, Ellemers, & Derks, 2016). This term refers to the part of people’s self-image that is derived from the groups to which they belong (Derks, Ellemers, van Laar, & Groot, 2011). Researchers argue that the QBP is not a response of women’s personalities or natural competitiveness but is triggered by work settings in which women are devalued and negatively stereotyped (Derks et al., 2016). As a result, literature found a consensus on three different types of responses from female leaders (Derks et al., 2016; Faniko et al., 2016):

Masculine self-presentation: The first response of women who try to achieve leader positions is to attempt to fit into male-dominated organizations by emphasizing perceived male characteristics and leadership styles. Consequently, women may assimilate to masculine definitions of idealistic leaders as they come into such a position rather than adding the desired female perspective to leadership (Derks et al., 2016). Especially competitiveness is usually considered as male stereotype. According to the QBP, women are adopting a very competitive and jealous behavior (Cooper, 1997).

Underlining dissimilarities and distance from other women: Women distancing themselves from other women within a male-dominated organization is the second way of improving their own opportunities and supporting the QBP (Derks et al., 2016). For instance, some women have the “desire to distance themselves from stereotypical femininity by disparaging women who they believe possess feminine characteristics or engage in feminine practices” (Rhoton, 2011, p. 701).

Legitimization of gender hierarchy: The third way of executing the QBP is to legitimize the status quo of gender inequality by agreeing with negative stereotypes about women, denying the illegitimacy of lower outcomes for females as a group and not supporting action to address gender inequality. For instance, QBs can be very critical of junior women and endorse stereotypes such as being less ambitious and less committed than junior men (Derks et al., 2016).

2.2 Consequences

QB behavior inherently has effects on the women leaders themselves. In the short run, QBs may have improved opportunities for being selected into powerful positions. Moreover, QBs may alleviate the threat of female leaderships to men because they protect the status quo of gender inequality as seen in the previous chapter. In the long run, QBs may come with substantial costs for the support female leaders get, as the main source of support is usually other senior women. Additionally, QBs may not benefit from the supportive psychological effects of identification with other women and thus may be less able to cope with the stress of gender bias and will have less opportunities to share experiences with same-sex colleagues (Derks et al., 2016)

For junior women, the QBP may be very dangerous, as negative evaluations of QBs can harm their career opportunities (Derks et al., 2016). In addition, junior women are in need of female role models (Drury, Siy, & Cheryan, 2011). If QBs distance themselves, junior women may be more likely to be demoralized rather than inspired (Derks et al., 2016).

Today’s organizations strive for gender diversity, because research has proven its positive impacts such as higher sales revenue, more customers, and greater relative profits (Herring, 2009). This is why the QBP can be a huge obstacle to take advantage of the diversity women can offer. QBs are unable to contribute with different perspectives and work styles if they they try to fit in with a masculine culture. Furthermore, QBs may enhance negative working atmospheres as they signal to junior women that they need to deemphasize their gender to be accepted (Derks et al., 2016).

2.3 Empirical evidence

There have been numerous empirical studies dealing with female leadership and surrounding issues (Mavin & Williams, 2013). The indications and consequences of the QBP were also derived from empirical work. However, in order to answer the research question, a more detailed investigation of results from individual studies should be carried out. Due to the scope of this paper, only three of the most recent and relevant works in the field will be explained with their corresponding results.

Derks et al. (2011) analyzed organizational conditions which foster the QBP. Their study was based an online survey with 94 female participants from The Netherlands who were holding a senior position within their company. This study was the first to suggest that the QBP is not a female characteristic obstructing the advancement of women in the workforce, but an outcome of gender discrimination experienced by women. Results have shown that women who reported being low gender identified when entering the workforce and who experienced a high level of gender discrimination on their career latter are more likely to show typical signs of the QBP (Derks et al., 2011)

Faniko, Ellmers and Derks (2016) carried out two studies addressing the QB phenomenon, more precisely the question of whether successful women are more competitive than successful men. Both were executed in Switzerland. Study 1 had a sample of 315 female leaders and concluded that women as leaders identified with successful women and encouraged supporting measures for these women. However, females in this study were reluctant to identify themselves with women who put family first, viewed themselves as more masculine than junior women and were unwilling to endorse measures to support them. Study 2 compared reactions of QBs to those of Alpha Males (AMs) with a sample of 277 (Faniko et al., 2016). AMs are men who are highly self-confident and intelligent, while also being action-oriented, unemotional and disciplined (Ludeman & Erlandson, 2004). Empirical evidence showed that female as well as male managers rated their own masculinity higher than the one of same-gender junior fellows. Furthermore, women in managerial positions were more inclined to identify with other women compared to males (Faniko et al., 2016).

The most recent study was conducted by Avarte, Galilea and Todescat (2018). They investigated 8.3 million organizations within 5600 Brazilian municipalities to evaluate the effect of female leadership on gender differences in both public and private organizations. Results unveiled that in case of public organizations, female leaders who are afforded much managerial discretion behave in a benevolent manner toward subordinate females on both top and middle management level. No results for private organizations could be obtained. Thus, they concluded that the QBP observed in literature is either a myth or not impactful (Arvate et al., 2018).

2.4 Discussion

After gathering findings from three different empirical studies, the underlying question of whether the QBP is existent or not is still hard to answer. Empirical results are complex and contradictory. While the first two studies suggest that there is in fact such a dynamic, the third one denies the existence of QBs. However, we can summarize that the QBP is proven to be existent in some contexts but does not necessarily occur everywhere.

The reason for this could be that studies have analyzed different geographical areas: The Netherlands, Switzerland and Brazil. Additionally, besides the Brazilian study, findings relied on selective samples or ungeneralizable case studies (Arvate et al., 2018). Therefore it is questionable whether one should draw universalizing conclusions from these studies. For instance, researchers from the third study themselves argue that Brazilian women are stereotypically known to have characteristics not fitting the image of an ideal leader (Arvate et al., 2018). Due to different contexts such national, corporate culture and even subcultures within an organization, female leaders may be influenced by superordinate factors which cannot be captured easily.

3 Conclusion and research implications

The QBP is difficult to talk about, since it contradicts the idea of women’s empowerment and sheds bad light on the female sex. In recent years, many organizations have invested effort into eliminating gender inequalities and diversifying their gender composition. Hence, it will become crucial to find out whether the QBP is myth or truth. Research should reduce its focus on well-studied differences between men and women, like the wage gap and gender communication differences, and increase effort into studies dealing with intra-gender-relation topics such as the QBP. Literature needs more large-scale studies in order to be able to compare findings. Additionally, questions such as “if women were more conscious about the QBP, would they act differently?” or “how can organizations combat the emergence of QBP?” remain unanswered with today’s state-of-the-art literature. Further research in the field of QBP is required to find appropriate answers.


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The queen bee phenomenon in management and marketing
Myth or truth?
Reutlingen University
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Anonymous, 2019, The queen bee phenomenon in management and marketing, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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