The Queen Bee & Her Protégé

“If ever there comes a time when the women of the world come together purely and simply for the benefit of mankind, it will be a force such as the world has never known.” – Matthew Arnold, Nineteenth- Century British Poet and Philosopher

Do you see the women around you generally supporting one another or cutting each other down?  In movies, on TV shows, and through the eyes of journalists, media touts the stereotype that women still have it out for each other – “reality TV” offering the worst of the worst.  Yes, the Queen Bee syndrome does exist, but I see the tide turning to welcome in a new generation of women who are willing to reach out for help or to offer support no matter what level they are at.

Recently, I did have an opportunity to see a Queen Bee in action when she turned up at a local cafe.  In fact, she inspired this blog:

The PR company owner (Queen Bee), adorned head to handbag in luxury logos met her up-and-coming, look-alike account executive (Protégé) at a bustling cafe to “air things out.”  I happened to be sitting a few tables down from them.  Given the broadcast throughout the cafe, I figured Queen Bee must have been in an “any PR is good PR” kind of mood.


Queen Bee vented to Protégé and all cafe bystanders a laundry list of Protégé’s missteps and shortcomings as Protégé dug her fingernails into her leg under the table.  I wondered if Protégé was stoically storing this conversation for disposal on her own underling 10 years from now.  They finished with some small talk and a hug.  Protégé drove away with an exasperated look on her face, her right palm pressed onto her forehead.

Thank you, Queen Bee and Protégé, for exampling the angst that can exist between Queen Bees and their favored underlings.  Especially when compared to their male counterparts whose careers are made on mentorship, women can at times be quite harsh.  Here are some perspectives on that:

Women And The Trouble With Mentors, Washington Post

Why Women Have So Few Mentors, NPR

Boomer Women Flunk Mentoring,

Why A Female Boss Can Be A Woman’s Worst Nightmare, Daily Mail

Despite the recent Devil Wears Prada episode I witnessed coupled with the banter among writers and researchers about the icy Queen, I see the tide changing.  For every Miranda and Andrea (or Queen Bee and Protege), there is a woman who is willing to nurture another coming up behind her.

Women can be the most critical of those closest to us (though still not as critical of them as we are of ourselves).  At our best, we can be fiercely loyal, firm, and loving…think lioness.

Our ability to nurture the next generation of women comes not from a change in desire but in an acceptance of our own wholeness.  When we can accept our own flaws, insecurities, and missteps, we can be more accepting of those reflections in others.  What we judge in ourselves, we are judging in others.

Could it be that the Queen Bee’s viscous bite can be disarmed by choosing love?  Her inherent power remains – a Queen is a Queen.  Power simply magnifies what is.  If the essence is whole, power will create more of that.  If the essence is fearful, power perpetuates that.

As I continue to learn in my masters program and life, an essential quality of leadership is self-awareness.  Leaders must be responsible for the fact that who they are expands with their reach.  We have to strike a balance between external progress and being aware of our impact and actions.  I’ve often found that the toughest Queen Bee has the biggest heart when she has room to express it.  Ladies, take a moment to think: What kind of Queen Bee are you?


For more information on mentorship for women, check out my friend Shavon Lindley’s company, Women Evolution.  Women Evolution is a cost effective and scalable mentorship program designed for small and medium sized businesses to help increase the number of women in executive level positions.  WE is currently pairing a mentee with a Fortune 1000 CEO. Way to go, Shavon & WE!

Thank you to  all of the mentors – men and women – who have made a positive impact of my life.

Here are just a few of the women who have helped show me the way:

Sue MacDonald (PE teacher), Coach Steph (elementary school swimming), Summer Sanders (childhood idol), Tammy Hereford (manager, Starbucks Menlo Park – first job in high school), Beth Brenner (magazine publisher), Antonella Pisani (vice president, marketing) & of course, mom.

Leave a Comment