Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Women as Mentors: Squashing the Queen Bee Myth


Do you work for a “queen bee?” This label, coined in the 1970s by researchers at the University of Michigan, describes the phenomenon of a high-ranking female working in a male-dominated industry who does everything she can to thwart the rise of female colleagues.

Is the queen bee a myth, or does she really exist?

Stories are legion of the lengths ambitious women will go to ascend to power in their organizations, and how they will do anything to ensure that other talented women don’t get their due (think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada

Supposedly this exists in real life too. I once heard a prominent male business executive in my city (one who proudly touted his company’s dedication to inclusiveness in TV ads for his financial services firm) claim at a diversity conference that often the reason women at his company didn’t get ahead is because they were too busy competing with one another. This made my blood boil; upon hearing this I thought, if that isn’t blaming the victim, I don’t know what is!

In over two decades of corporate life, I’ve reported to 13 supervisors, nine of whom were women. Not a single one of them ever did anything to hinder my career. In fact, nearly all of them actively helped me further my professional growth.

After hearing the executive talk about what was in essence was a perceived “queen bee” environment at his company, I counted my positive career experiences as an anomaly.

Still, it nagged at me. No doubt, there are queen bees out there, but how come I’ve never seen one?

The other day, I read about a recent research report published by Develop Dimensions International titled, “Women as Mentors: Does She or Doesn’t She? A Global Study of Businesswomen and Mentoring.” It seems that my experiences are not as rare as I thought. Many women in senior leadership roles are willing to mentor, but they’re rarely asked.

According to the research, 20 percent of women in senior leadership roles have never been asked to be a mentor, and nearly 50 percent have been asked only a few times. “Women want to share their experience and provide career guidance, but other women are not seeking them out” the researchers write, saying that 71 percent of the survey respondents say they always accept mentoring requests.

So sure, there are some queen bees out there, but probably not as many as you think. If you are looking to advance in your career, one simple step is to simply ask a professional woman you admire to mentor you. Squash that image of the ruthless, buzzing insect. Instead, invest in your career. Reach out and trust that you won’t get stung.

Jennifer Miller is a writer and leadership development consultant. This article originally appeared on her blog The People Equation.

(Image via JSseng/

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.