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The Real Sting of the So-Called Queen Bee Effect


On Tuesday we focus on women in business. A persistent myth about professional women is the so-called “queen bee syndrome” – a supposed tendency of women to keep each other out of leadership roles.

However, a 2012 study from the research firm Catalyst found women actually “pay it forward” to the next generation more than men do:

  • 73 percent of the female mentors were helping develop other women.
  • While 30 percent of the male mentors were doing the same.

Meanwhile, a study by researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland that looked at top management teams in 1,500 companies over a 20-year period found when women were appointed chief executive, other women were more likely to make it into senior positions.

In other words, female CEOs were more likely to promote other women.

But there is a catch. In companies without female CEOs that appoint one woman to a top-tier job, the chances of a second woman landing an elite position at the same firm drop substantially — by about 50 percent.

The authors of the study don’t see this as the “queen bee effect,” rather as the effect of hidden hiring quotas.

“Once they had appointed one woman, the men seem to have said, ‘We have done our job.’” – Cristian Dezső, study author, University of Maryland.

David Ross, another co-author of the study said “They try pretty hard to get a woman on their top management team, but then they will stop. What I think our paper shows is that it’s going to be harder for the low number of women in top management to be a problem that solves itself.”

Sounds like swarm of queen bees might be exactly what’s needed.

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