“Alright everyone, gird your loins”, announces an employee as all the other staff scatter around in fearful anticipation of the formidable editor-in-chief, Miranda Priestly.
The Devil Wears Prada is one of many examples of narratives depicting female bosses as downright icy. While this seems completely unjustified, studies have shown that both men and women prefer male bosses. Why is this the case?
Turns out Hollywood is not the only factor contributing to the aversion. Women have often said that they feel bullied by female bosses. In fact, these bosses are regarded as “queen bees”. Queen bees are women in authority who mistreat their female subordinates more than their male ones. Although this propagates gender inequality, the Queen Bee Phenomenon itself likely arises from the poor circumstances women face in workplaces.
As a marginalised group in the workplace, women internalise and struggle to cope with the negative stereotypes targeting them. Many women have to compete with other women to succeed in their workplace, thus having to work to differentiate themselves from their female competitors. In an attempt to equalise men and women’s opportunities for career growth, an increasing number of workplaces have been enforcing quotas (i.e. requirements for a minimum number of women in senior managerial positions). While these organisations mean well, the imposed quotas may also cause damage.
In some ways, quotas fuel women’s beliefs that they need to compete with other women for high-ranking positions. The constant competition among women is also prevalent in male-dominated workplaces. This dynamic is known as tokenism, where women ‘begin to view their gender as an impediment’ due to the scarcity of opportunities available to them. Tokenism can subsequently lead to favouritism bias as women become concerned that they will seem biased if they help one another. A study found that women wanted to dissociate themselves from other women and blend in with the men in order to advance in their careers. However, trying to act like men involves many more biases.
For instance, male bosses can get away with being “frank”, but women are expected to be team players. Unfortunately, this can also cause workers to respect female bosses less than male ones. As a result, women may treat their employees more harshly, which can lead to the employees thinking less of their boss. Women face a vicious cycle as they try to earn respect from other employees in the workplace, and can encounter barriers whether they to blend in with men or distinguish themselves from their gender.
Simply kneeling down to a female boss and ranting about her behind her back will not solve the problem. The problem runs deeper than a dysfunctional family life explaining a woman’s harsh personality in the workplace. To help women feel less like they have to cut down other women to get noticed, workplaces need to make it easier for women to attain managerial positions. Companies should also hire more women in general to avoid male-dominated workplaces where women feel the need for camouflage.
On a smaller scale, employers and managers making an effort to express female employees’ value to the company can go a long way; women who are more optimistic about their achievements and potential feel less of a need to sabotage other women in order to succeed. Furthermore, one should try to distinguish between a queen bee and a tough boss before deciding to resent their boss. If a male boss did the same thing the female boss did to irk you so, would it still be that much of an issue? You would be surprised how often the answer to that question is ‘no’.