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'Queen bee’ behavior? Blame sexist workplace, study says

Sunday, July 17, 2011  
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Organizations that want to cultivate more women leaders, but do nothing to cultivate a sexism-free environment are bound to fail, according to new research.

"Queen bee” behavior by female bosses who distance themselves from other women and refuse to help others rise through the ranks is caused by a sexist workplace environment, according to the study by Belle Derks of Leiden University in the Netherlands. The study, co-written by Colette van Laar, Naomi Ellemers and Kim De Groot, will be published soon in the Psychological Science magazine.

Derks and her colleagues explored whether queen bee behavior -- for example, denying that gender discrimination is a problem -- might be a response to a difficult, male-dominated environment, according to a report by the National Science Foundation published in U.S. World and News Report. Derks’ study was based on responses to a survey of 63 senior women in police departments in three Dutch cities.

Only certain women were found to engage in queen bee behavior, and only after they’ve been primed to think about gender bias.

"If you simply put women at higher positions without doing anything about gender bias in the organization, these women will be forced to distance themselves from the group,” Derks said. "They may deny that gender bias exists or avoid helping women below them. If you set women up this way, so they have to choose between their opportunities and the opportunities of the group, some women will choose themselves. Why should you choose your group? Men don’t have to.”

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