A new study from University of Arizona management professor Allison Gabriel reveals that so-called “Queen Bee Syndrome”— the phenomenon of powerful women being disliked— is very real, and that women are often meaner to each other than men are to women.
The study was based off three surveys, each involving several hundred people. It also found that by contrast, men who deviate from social norms— by say, coming across as avuncular and warm— are actually held in more esteem.
For the purpose of her research, Gabriel defines “incivility” as a form of low-intensity deviant behavior, such as being ignored or interrupted, mocked or otherwise treated in a disrespectful manner. Across the three studies, Gabriel concludes that women are more likely to suffer from what she calls “female-instigated incivility” than men are, while also receiving more incivility across the board in general. While she cautions that the results aren’t reason to play down bad behavior by men or gender discrimination more broadly, the findings suggest that women who display non-stereotypical traits like dominance are especially penalized.
“Such women are more likely treated uncivilly by other women at work because they are viewed as violating gender expectations and, perhaps, competing for the same resources,” she writes in the Journal of Applied Psychology, adding that it is possible females instinctively have negative reactions to other members of their sex who go against “support-promoting tendencies expected of fellow women.”
As a case-in-point see former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, whose popularity numbers have historically been higher when she was in a supporting role (First Lady, barring the period when she advocated for healthcare reform) than when she’s running for public office.
Gabriel’s findings also have practical consequences for women seeking to advance in their profession. At a time when there’s much talk of women supporting women, she thinks that females who are the target of such hostility from other members of their sex suffer negative consequences to their well-being.
This may involve poorer job performance and even absenteeism and higher health care expenditures.
Interestingly, men who subvert gender stereotypes by behaving warmly and less assertively actually become better liked.
Indeed, they especially benefit when they’re perceived as involved in initiatives that help groups like minorities and women advance professionally at work. This could be the result of males having more freedom to flout societal norms than women, at least when it comes to the workplace.