By Susan Smith Blakely • March 19, 2013•Mentoring and Networking
Any one of you who has read my books, follows my blogs or has heard me speak knows that “Women Helping Women” is a major theme of my work. The Best Friends at the Bar project is a pay it forward project, and I hope we all know what that means.
Not so fast, however. It appears that women are not always living up to the responsibility to help their fellow women, as recognized in this favorite quote from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “There’s a place reserved in Hell for women who do not help other women." We knew that it was a problem in the past when women were just coming of age in the workplace, but we hoped that, in the day of enlightened women, it had gone away. Apparently not.
In a recent WSJ article, “The Tyranny of the Queen Bee,” this deficiency is addressed again. According to the article, the term “queen bee syndrome” was coined in the 1970s following a study at the University of Michigan, which examined promotion rates and the impact of the women’s movement on the workplace and concluded that “women who achieved success in male-dominated environments were at times likely to oppose the rise of other women.” In other words, the women who had made it to the top wanted to remain exclusive and have all the female power. If you saw the movie Mean Girls, you get it.
Ancient history? Not so much. Recent studies show that the Queen Bee Syndrome is still alive and well and continues to negatively affect the career ascents of women professionals. And it is not just theory. I see it in practice all the time. As the article points out:
“This generation of queen bees is no less determined to secure their hard-won places as alpha females. Far from nurturing the growth of younger female talent, they push aside possible competitors by chipping away at their self-confidence or undermining their professional standing. It is a trend thick with irony: The very women who have complained for decades about unequal treatment now perpetuate many of the same problems by turning on their own.”
Ouch! Such good news and such bad news. “Hard-won places” and “turning on their own.” When will we get it right, and how many women’s careers do we have to see negatively affected by jealous and resentful senior women? Please, let’s make this a priority and solve the problem RIGHT NOW! Let’s commit to helping each other and seeing us all rise together.
If we can’t get this right, how are we supposed to tackle the really tough stuff? REALLY.
Here's some advice from Gloria Feldt, who I read a lot, in a CNN exclusive "Why Women Must Seize This Moment" addressing how women can get ahead in business. She calls it "Sister Courage" and invites like-minded men to join. Here are some snippets---echoing some of my own thoughts above:
- First, be a sister at work -- make alliances with people who share your concerns. Don't let yourself be isolated. Reach out to give help and ask for help when you need it.
- Second, have the courage to raise issues. Engage even when it's hard. That doesn't mean being unkind. It does mean not backing off. It means defining your own terms -- for flextime, for pay raises, for promotion, for creating a practical, productive work situation where everyone wins.
- And third, put sister and courage together into a purposeful strategy and keep moving until you've reached the goal. Women earn 57% of college degrees, hold 85% of the consumer purchasing purse, are 54% of voters and half the workplace, and they're stuck at under one-fifth of congressional, corporate board, and top management seats.
Hear, hear! We can---we MUST---do better. Women Supporting Women! It is the only way.
This entry originally appeared on my web site blog at www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and a nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law. She is author of Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another. Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business. Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession.Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow for legal research and writing. For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.