Queen Bee Syndrome in Higher Education: Myth or Reality?
Queen Bee Syndrome (QBS), a concept introduced in 1973, describes women in positions of authority in male-dominated environments who are unsupportive of female subordinates. Since its inception, there has been mixed empirical support for whether the QBS exists within organizations. Additionally, critics argue that the QBS concept is woman-blaming, perpetuates gender stereotypes, and undermines women’s progress. However, given the challenges women describe in higher education settings that align with aspects of the QBS—especially at the intersection of race, ethnicity, and sexuality—we sought to explore women’s experiences and understanding of the QBS. Using an intersectional lens, focus groups were conducted with 20 cisgender women staff and faculty to explore their experiences of the QBS and its impacts. Focus group participants experienced the QBS as bullying by women superiors—including criticism, intimidation, threats, attacking identity (race/ethnic identity, DEI/social justice scholars, whistleblowers), punishment, gaslighting, slander, and recruiting others (“mini bees”) to enforce the culture. This resulted in professional derailment (including leaving the university), isolation, and adverse health and financial impacts. Women suggested the antidote includes talking about the QBS, establishing allyship bases, and addressing structural inequalities (including redesigning leadership training to support female supervisors in navigating gendered culture).
Dr. Bonomi and Dr. Guinot Talbot have found critical information and guidance for what we do and not do in the gray space of bullying. The presentation includes some clear and concise conceptual models, along with strategies of how to address issues stemming directly from participants.