Published March 20, 2013
Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s statement that there is “a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” might have been declared back in 2006, but it’s made its way back into headlines recently.
Country music singer Taylor Swift said it during an interview with Vanity Fair in response to comments from comedians Tina Fey and Amy Pohler about her dating life. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also name-checks Albright in her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead reciting the quote when discussing the importance of female mentorship and leadership in the workplace.
Women have made many advancements in the workplace, but they still face discrimination and inequality at the office. The label of an office “queen bee” has emerged to describe women who have climbed the corporate ladder and don’t work to help her fellow female coworkers also advance. Career experts say this mentality is detrimental to the progress of women workers, the efficiency of an office as well as the “queen bee’s” overall career growth.
The Queen Bee: Myth or Reality?
The queen bee attitude is unfortunately a reality in today’s work place, claims career and executive coach for women Kathy Caprino, who has worked with more than 10,000 women in the past 10 years.
“It’s a survival mechanism,” she says. “I don’t think all women are like this, but there are still only about 16% of women in corporate leadership positions in America. When you are really struggling to get there, and stay there, you are not your highest self.”
She adds that women that have climbed to the top of the corporate ladder are often too busy trying to maintain their position to be able to fully nurture and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
But Anne Robson, executive vice president and chief client officer for Kelleher Associates Career and Executive Coaching, says she is noticing shift in this mindset. While all companies are different, Robson says where she is based in Philadelphia in particular, she feels women supporting other women is increasingly common.
“It’s like nothing I have seen in my career,” she says. “It’s noticeable and palpable. The vast majority of female executives have benefitted from a female mentor or they are trying to institute that in the organizations they run.”
Taking the time to help emerging talent benefits both mentors and mentees, according to data from Catalyst.org, a nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women and business. The organization’s recent research report, Leaders Pay it Forward, shows women are increasingly helping their female counterparts, with 65% of women who received career support reporting they now developing new talent, compared to 56% of men.
In addition, 73% of these women are cultivating female talent, compared to 30% of men, which busts the “queen bee” myth, Catalyst reports.
So why is this notion still making headlines and generating conversation? Senior research associate for Catalyst, Anna Beninger, says its simple: everyone loves a little drama.
“Many of us have heard these stories, and they’re blown out of proportion,” she says. “If a man were to do the exact same thing, it would get zero attention. [Queen bee] stories are all anecdotal and do not accurately reflect the talent pool. People like a good story."
How Much Should Women Help?
If you are a leader- you should be leading, regardless of your gender or the gender of the people beneath you, says Robson. “You need support, mentoring and leadership from your leadership. It’s critical.”
Caprino agrees, and says those who want to succeed must look past gender and focus on fostering growth.
“If you want a successful, fulfilling career, it has to involve supporting and nurturing others,” she says. “You don’t get to the top if you are doing everything yourself. Success is all about relationships.”
If women in leadership want to see more women standing beside them in corporate America, they must extend a helping hand, says Caprino, as do men.
“Men throw people under the bus as well, it’s not just women doing this to women,” Caprino says. “This hurts everyone- think of a leader who is so covetous of his or her power, they won’t sure it. You will potentially lose great emerging leaders, and this hurts and divides your culture.”
Catalyst also found it pays to help out those beneath you, Beninger says. Catalyst found that those who developed other talent earned $25,075 in additional compensation between 2008 and 2010. This is because mentoring created more visibility for higher-ups and a following within the organization.
“It’s less about obligation and more about the bottom line,” she says. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to mentor- especially those in high positions. You will advance faster and earn more.”