Powerful women are consistently accused of trying to keep other women down. I can vouch for the fact that it does happen and can cite two occasions in the last 25 years. Each time it set my career back a step. I consequently became adept at working around blockers to find the next path forward. In many ways those experiences have honed my career survival instincts.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, there is much evidence to suggest the Queen Bee syndrome that reared its ugly head in the seventies is alive and thriving in the corporate world today. A Queen Bee is a woman in a position of power who cuts off another woman's opportunity. Not sure what term is given to men who do the same thing - are they simply Alpha Males? I've worked for one of those too.
The constant obsession with the concept of a Queen Bee serves to deflect attention from male leaders who make it difficult for women to succeed. I have had more male bosses than female simply because there are more men than women running media companies. And if I am truly honest about it I have been equally undermined by men and women who worked alongside me in a leadership role, as well as my male and female bosses. That's not to say that all of the leaders in my career have undermined me. Quite the opposite. I have worked for some amazing mentors, men and women, who have assisted the development of my career. One even part-funded my MBA.
But I admit I am guilty of remembering the treatment of those two Queen Bees more harshly than most of the others. I wonder if it's because I expected more of women. We expect men to behave a certain way and when they do we don't feel as disappointed. The expectations we place on other women, due to our hope for an all-encompassing sisterhood, may in fact be tough for them to live up to because they'd have to be perfect.
The first time my position was undermined was at the hands of a male who performed the same type of role that I did in an organisation but had been with the company for longer. He had deep and powerful relationships with functional heads that I also relied on to execute my strategy. I used to joke that my back looked like a cutlery drawer but it wasn't a laughing matter. It was a messy, nasty situation and I didn't see it coming. So years later when I faced a similar situation from a female colleague, I could at least see it coming and knew where it was headed. The difference was that she was more overt. At no stage did this woman pretend to like me or show any interest at all in working with me. I knew exactly where I stood and could therefore assess the size of the mountain I would need to climb.
I have also been overwhelmed by very powerful women who have not only pulled the ladder down for me but have suggested which rungs I should step on to increase my chances of getting up to the top with them. There are some incredibly generous female leaders in the corporate world.
So is it really powerful women or rather some powerful people who continue to undermine the pipeline of next-generation leaders? I'm not sure it's fair to continue to cast blame on female leaders alone.
Have you ever felt undermined by a female boss? What about by a male boss? Same or different?
Marina Go is GM of Hearst-Bauer, publisher of Harper's Bazaar, ELLE and Cosmopolitan. She is also chair of the Wests Tigers, a director of Odyssey House McGrath Foundation and a member of the advisory boards of the Walkley Foundation, The Remarkables Group and Women's Agenda. She has an MBA from The AGSM and is a member of the AICD. Her new book is Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders.