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Women promoting women: damned if they do, damned if they don’t

Women promoting women: damned if they do, damned if they don’t
Financial Times
By Andrew Hill
Published: July 16, 2014
>> Women promoting women: damned if they do, damned if they don’t

Madeleine Albright, former US secretary of state, famously said there was  "a special place in hell" for women who don't help other women. But new research suggests that women leaders - and managers from ethnic minorities - will also be damned if they go out of their way to advance people who look like them.

A paper to be presented at next month's Academy of Management annual meeting says women and non-white leaders who value diversity - and show it through their actions - are  "systematically penalised with lower performance ratings" by their bosses. By contrast, valuing diversity earns white men higher ratings for both warmth and performance. The net effect, however, is that the "glass ceiling" is reinforced.

David Hekman, Maw-Der Foo and Wei Yang of University of Colorado, Boulder, write:

Executives who are women or ethnic minorities are penalised every day for doing what everyone says they ought to be doing - helping other members of their groups fulfil their management potential.

There are quite a lot of "ifs" and "mays" in the research. It is based on data gathered at a leadership training centre from only 362 executives, most of whom were white and male. As the Academy of Management points out, the relatively small numbers of women and ethnic minorities in the sample "may have made it hard to obtain differences that were statistically significant".

But the new research takes some of the sting out of prior work suggesting that successful women are prone to "Queen Bee" syndrome. As described in a recent Wall Street Journal article by psychologist Peggy Drexler, the Queen Bee is "the female boss who not only has zero interest in fostering the careers of women who aim to follow in her footsteps, but who might even actively attempt to cut them off at the pass". In other words, she is the sort of woman on a fast track to Ms Albright's hell.

The Colorado research points out that women and non-white leaders in the study valued diversity significantly more than their white male counterparts. That does not exactly confound earlier studies on Queen Bee syndrome (which date back as far as a 1974 report on promotion rates). After all, some women may still be advancing their own progress up the ladder by ignoring women on the rung below - not because they feel competitively threatened but because they fear a poor performance review. But it seems pretty clear to me that the angry buzz about Queen Bees should be redirected towards the (mostly white male) bosses who oversee them.

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