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Is another woman threatening your career?

(MoneyWatch) Remember the mean girls in junior high? You know who I'm talking about. They were popular because no one wanted to be on their bad sides, had the teachers convinced that they were angels and often had mothers who were just as bad as they were.

We all assumed they would grow out of it (although their mean mothers should have been a clue that this was hopeless). Not only didn't they grow out of it, they are now actively seeking to destroy your career, according to a Wall Street Journal article titled "The Tyranny of the Queen Bee." The author, Peggy Drexler, a psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College, is researching the "queen bee" phenomenon in business.

The idea of women who break through the glass ceiling into upper management also promote the careers of other women apparently doesn't happen often in the workplace. Indeed, Drexler defines a queen bee as "The female boss who not only has zero interest in fostering the careers of women who aim to follow in her footsteps, but who might even actively attempt to cut them off at the pass." 

Since women make up such a small percentage of leadership at companies -- only 2 percent of Fortune 500 companies -- some women may see female colleagues as competing for the limited spots at the top. The assumption is that men will always make up the large majority of a company's leadership, so any woman represents a competitor.

No doubt the standards used to evaluate women leaders seem in some ways to be gender-based. Yahoo CEO Melissa Mayer was not only criticized for her new policy of requiring all employees to work in the office, but criticized because as a woman she should be more concerned about a female friendly workplace. The message appeared to be that she should be a role model to other women. And what do women need? Flexibility -- otherwise they can't climb to the top.

But according to all accounts, Mayer herself had no flexibility until she built a nursery in her office. She was famous for her long hours. Why would women (or men, for that matter) who want a work-life balance look to someone who had no work-life balance as a role model? Because she's a woman? That's the only reason.

Queen bees rise to the top by squashing their competition, yet are expected to mentor and develop the very people they are trying hardest to stop. It seems like a recipe for failure. And, in fact, according to Drexler, "Women aren't always the best employees to other women either. Female subordinates can show less respect and deference to female bosses than to their male bosses."

Yet where are women sent when they want to be mentored? To other women. Writes one female game industry software programmer about her experience as a college student.

For example, I signed up to be part of the mentorship program at my university. As a student, I was paired up with an industry mentor each year. Despite my repeated requests for a mentor with similar interests, regardless of sex, I was ALWAYS paired up with a female mentor who spent her career in project management and never touched a line of code. You can't tell me there just happened to be a lack of mentors -- all of my male peers were given mentors from tech companies such as Amazon. Yet I finished at the top in my class for java development. HMM... !

Do we perpetuate the queen bee problem by sending talented, driven women to female mentors? Do we assume that they can only be taught by another women? And then when these women aren't willing to mentor we wring our hands wondering why there aren't more women at the top.

Have you ever been stung by a queen bee? Tell your story in the comments.

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