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Women in the Law

Why Women Leaders Get a Bad Rap: Queen Bee Jealousy and ‘Vision Thing’

Posted Aug 6, 2009 8:57 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Women bosses may be getting a bad rap—and the blame may rest with evolutionary biology and differences in decision-making styles.

Those are some of the new theories by management experts that are summarized in an article by lawyer Michael Maslanka for Texas Lawyer. Evolutionary biology creates queen-bee jealousies that spur women underlings to sabotage female bosses, one theory goes. And women's careful gathering of information and ideas before making a decision creates the perception that they lack vision, according to another theory.

Maslanka notes a New York Times article that reported women who are workplace bullies tend to target other women more often than men, while male bullies tend to target other men and women on an equal footing. The article suggests a reason—women believe they need to act aggressively to combat gender stereotypes.

But authors Pat Hem, Susan Murphy and Susan Golant suggest something else is at work—and evolutionary biology provides an explanation, according to their book, In the Company of Women: Why We Hurt Each Other and How to Stop.

Maslanka sums up their theory this way: “The female imperative, from ancient times, is ensuring offspring survival. A female who is not a team player, who thinks of herself as better than the group, endangers the offspring, so the group isolates her and tosses her aside. … So, when a fellow female gets a promotion and acts superior to the group, the ancient wiring fires up and prompts other females to bully and undermine her authority in an attempt to topple the queen bee.”

Herminia Ibarra and Otilia Obodaru write about another problem for women bosses in a January Harvard Business Review article, "Women and the Vision Thing." Women in the workplace are perceived as lacking vision—the ability to spot big issues, make big-picture decisions and inspire others, according to Maslanka’s reading of their theory.

One of the reasons is that women tend to collect input from many people and gather facts before developing a vision. “For men, vision is a one-riot-one-ranger idea, with the leader as hero in his own story,” Maslanka writes in his summary of the authors’ theory.

Another reason is that women don’t put as much stock in vision. “Because women are more focused on the doing, and less on the yapping, the authors conclude they get a bum-rap on the vision thing,” Maslanka says of Ibarra and Obodaru.

Maslanka, a labor law practitioner and the managing partner of Ford & Harrison’s Dallas office, says that ‘knowing the whys of our behavior” makes it possible to change.

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: "What Women Lawyers Really Think of Each Other: We asked who they’d rather work with—men or women. The answers were surprising"

ABAJournal.com: “Women Lawyers Feel Betrayed When Female Bosses Aren’t Nurturing”

ABAJournal.com: “Jack Welch: Women Take Time Off for Kids at Their Peril”

ABAJournal.com: “Are Professional Women Managers Sabotaging Those Who Follow?”

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