The Queen Bee. The iron woman at the top preventing the rest of us from getting close. Turns out she's a myth. New research from Columbia business school shows that when women are appointed as chief executives, other women are more likely to attain senior positions in that organisation. When a woman has the ultimate say, she will promote other women. So why the queen bee fallacy? Well, the research also found that where a woman is promoted to a senior role that was not the top job, the likelihood of other women reaching executive level fell by half. Whether by accident or design, tokenism is still rife. As the researchers told the Times: “Women face an implicit quota, whereby firms seek to maintain a small number of women on their top management team, usually only one. While firms gain legitimacy from having women in top management, the value of this legitimacy declines with each woman.” A rum state of affairs if ever we heard one.
Why is this still the case? We know that organisational problems are solved by organisational change. This means a top down change in attitudes and approaches to gender diversity. Unfortunately, most organisations are still working on a model of getting women to "fix themselves." Not enough when battling the biased powers that be. But there are things we can do to bypass this tokenism. And we don't mean acting like a man.
Find a Champion. A champion is not a mentor. Nor are they a confidante. Identify someone with real power in your organisation. Male or female, their role is to back you rather than pick you up when you fall down. An influential champion means when the time comes for promotion discussions they'll be fighting your corner as the best person for the job, making the female factor fall into the background.
Work your network. Women naturally prefer relationships with a smaller number of women similar to ourselves. The problem is that larger, diverse networks are where it's at when it comes to career progression. Force yourself to broaden the network. Make yourself attend industry events. Better yet, join a relevant committee. Broaden your reach both internally and, more importantly, externally. Suddenly you're in possession of the connections and influence the organisation needs. How can they keep you? Why promote you of course. Something you'll be telling them in no uncertain terms.
Shout it out. It's not just your network you need to use as leverage. Your achievements are crucial too. And at risk of being boring, talking up what you've done for your organisation is one of the most important tools in your promotion arsenal. Brought a successful project over the line? Outperformed your targets? That's hard to ignore. Unless you don't tell them. So get vocal about your successes, depersonalise the discussion to focus on the numbers and, woman or not, it'll be hard to argue you're not the best candidate for the job.
Quit the girl talk. Acting like a man won't do you any favours. But talking like one will. To get power you have to project it and a lot of that comes from your voice. Studies of female CEOs show they usually speak in a low pitch and don't inflect up when talking. Think more Madam Secretary, less Clueless. Practice lowering your tone and speaking in statements rather than questions to improve your influence and make you a more credible candidate for top jobs.
If you get the numbers, influence and backing, you're half way there. Combine that with a strong business case - yes we've got that covered too - to get senior leader buy-in for diversity and soon you could be quashing the Queen Bee myth yourself.