Is the Queen Bee dead?

SANDY SMITH
Last updated 17:13 06/09/2012

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Who remembers Meryl Streep's portrayal of the domineering magazine editor, Miranda Priestly, in the Devil Wears Prada? Or Sigourney Weaver's conniving behaviour towards her downtrodden secretary, Melanie Griffiths, in the classic movie Working Girl?

You may have even crossed paths with a Queen Bee boss in your own career, someone who keeps other women down so she can stay at the top.

But is this stereotype of the female boss an outdated myth or still a reality?

A report by Catalyst, a non-profit membership organisation expanding opportunities for women and business, has pronounced the Queen Bee officially dead.

According to its latest research, Leaders Pay It Forward, more women than men are helping others move up the ladder and develop their full potential. Catalyst found that "65 per cent of women who received career development support are now developing new talent, compared to 56 per cent of men, and 73 per cent of the women developing new talent are developing women, compared to only 30 per cent of men.

"This finding helps bust the oft-cited 'Queen Bee' myth that women are reluctant to provide career support to other women and may even actively undermine each other," said the report which was based on responses given by 742 people who had attended full-time MBA programs and had worked full-time at a company.

"It shows that women are in fact actively helping each other succeed," said Ilene Lang, chief executive of Catalyst. "The notion that women executives are Queen Bees who are unwilling to support other women needs to be put to rest."

The research has been welcomed by a number of Australia's top female executives.

Kathryn Fagg, a council member of Chief Executive Women (CEW), a member-based organisation, comprising more than 200 businesswomen, supports the findings. This research "is so important because it shows that women actually do a good job in terms of supporting other women and therefore the notion that all women are Queen Bees should well and truly be dead", she said.

Fagg is well qualified to judge the findings of the report through her involvement with CEW, which has a shared goal to facilitate greater representation of women at senior levels of business, government and the non-profit sectors.

"I was really thrilled because my experience is a lot of women are really doing a lot to try and help other women achieve more senior leadership roles. In CEW that is our absolute reason for being and I think it is really powerful that over 200 of Australia's most senior women leaders do that working together."

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Holly Kramer, chief executive of Best and Less, is passionate about women helping the careers of other women. She feels fortunate to have been mentored by a number of women throughout her career, which includes almost 10 years in senior roles at Telstra.

"The myth that women don't help other women I think is completely untrue. There have been women who have been pivotal to my career all the way through," said Kramer.

"When I started out there was a woman who was president of Ford division in the US and she absolutely brought me under her wing, gave me fantastic advice and opportunities that really set my career on track from the very early days. I was very fortunate from the very beginning to have a role model."

Kramer thinks women can often be more effective mentors for other women than men because "they understand a broader range of issues that relate to women.

"I think a woman mentor would be equally as effective in talking about career and business-related issues but they also understand other issues that may affect women personally or can relate to women where they perhaps lack the self-confidence that men either have or appear to have."

But that doesn't mean that all women in business make good bosses, says Miss Moneypenny in Britain's Financial Times Weekend.

"There is no escaping the fact that there are plenty of women who, for whatever reason, do not like to support others of their sex. I am sure most of us can name at least one 'rope ladder' woman - someone who gets to a senior position and then promptly hauls up the ladder behind her."

Kramer says: "I'm aware of the sentiment that there are women who don't support other women.

"I think in the past there might have been a perception that women needed to be closer to men to advance their career but it certainly is well and truly in my experience a thing of the past."

The survey "doesn't mean that everyone is perfect of course", said Fagg. "The world's not like that, but I think the survey is really, really compelling in terms of saying most women are actively supporting other women. For me one of the most satisfying aspects in my career is where I have seen people with enormous talent and potential and I've been able to encourage them and support them get much bigger roles."

So why does the Queen Bee myth persist?

"Perhaps it is because there are so many more men in the senior ranks that any one man's actions aren't taken as reflective of men as a group the way women's actions seem to reflect on their entire gender," Catalyst concludes.

Nevertheless, the evidence of the past couple of years in Australia shows that things are changing for the better, says Kramer. "What is very exciting today is that there is a network of women out there that truly matter because they are genuinely powerful and well-connected sitting in very powerful positions and that network is growing," said Kramer.

"The network is not only there to offer mentoring, coaching and support but now women are genuinely able to help bring other women in to executive and board roles where they weren't there in any significant number in the past and I think that is one of the greatest things that is now changing in the Australian landscape as the ASX (Australian Securities Exchange), the ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission) and other organisations help create more opportunities for women."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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