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The queen bee phenomenon: Why women leaders distance themselves from junior women

This contribution reviews work on the queen bee phenomenon whereby women leaders assimilate into male-dominated organisations (i.e., organisations in which most executive positions are held by men) by distancing themselves from junior women and legitimising gender inequality in their organisation. We propose that rather than being a source of gender inequality, the queen bee phenomenon is itself a consequence of the gender discrimination that women experience at work. We substantiate this argument with research showing that (1) queen bee behaviour is a response to the discrimination and social identity threat that women may experience in male-dominated organisations, and (2) queen bee behaviour is not a typically feminine response but part of a general self-group distancing response that is also found in other marginalised groups. We discuss consequences of the queen bee phenomenon for women leaders, junior women, organisations and society more generally, and propose ways to combat this phenomenon.

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