Suzanne Mercier

Is the Queen Bee Syndrome dead?

Ask a group of women whether they enjoy working for another women and the resounding response – in my experience – is NO! This strong and negative response has shown up in face-to-face discussions and in online comments to blogs on the subject. What lies behind these strong responses is an experience of a Queen Bee (or someone else’s story about one). The Queen Bee Syndrome suggests that women in positions of power do not help other women get ahead, and in fact, may even actively keep other women down, contributing to the gender gap. Recent research conducted by Catalyst into High Potentials in the Pipeline suggests that the Queen Bee Syndrome is being overtaken by an increasing number of women who are developing female talent in their organisations. Women are more likely to pay it forward when they have received support to achieve their own career goals. According to the research, 73% of women will develop women coming up the pipeline while only 30% of men will develop women. Given how few women are at the top compared with men, it’s no wonder it’s taking so long to achieve a fair go for women! Heidi Roizen, in her interview at the 2013 Women in Leadership Conference said that women generally like to help each other because we’re wired that way (yes, that’s a stereotype!) and where it is not a zero sum game, they will help each other. In her view, it depends very much on the job. If there are only so many spots for women, they/we will compete with each other tooth and nail to win the role. Zero sum situations eliminate the likelihood of collaboration. However, where that doesn’t exist, we will help each other. How about we expand the pie?  It stands to reason, then, if we can create more opportunities for women and increase the numbers of women at and close to the top of the organisation that more women will help each other. I hope so. What do you think?

7 ways to move beyond ‘Nice Girl’ to Thought Leader

I was raised to be a nice girl, to be seen and not heard, to do what I was told to do and not what the adults in my life did. I was taught that if I couldn’t say something nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all. It was important that I didn’t offend anyone. As a result of all that conditioning, my tendency has been to avoid conflict or confrontation of any kind. Imagine my dilemma when I found out many years ago that to be of any real value as a thought leader (speaker, trainer, author …) I needed to challenge their thinking; to poke and stir up thoughts; to offer choice. Being agreeable maintains the status quo. It validates people where they are and takes away their growth opportunity. Almost as important, without being disruptive in my unique way, I can’t stand out from the crowd and it’s less likely I’ll be commercially successful. What a journey it’s been to shift from the nice agreeable girl to embrace my spikey. Yes, it was there buried beneath the patina of socially appropriate behaviour. What did it take for me to make that shift? Here are 7 steps in that journey that can help you do the same: 1.  Believe we add value So many of us either don’t see our talents and capabilities or fail to recognise their value. Without claiming this critical part of ourselves, we can’t make our contribution. Without recognising our value, we feel we have nothing to offer that can add to another person’s perspective. I’ve used the word believe purposefully. When I first started out in my own business, I had beautiful marketing materials that I never used. I realised they were developed from other people’s feedback and I wasn’t buying it. I needed to recognise my strengths and successes, understand the benefits they provided to others and feel that it was OK to say I’m good at this. I needed to own and embody my value. I needed to believe in me before I could expect others to. Equally, I needed to let go of being a generalist. In the early days of a speaking or training career, many of us look at other people’s success and think “I can do that” and we incorporate that capability into our offering. That old saying “If we don’t stand for something, we fall for everything” comes to mind. We need to draw our line in the sand and tell the world (or at least the niche we’re after) that this is what we stand for; this is what we offer and we’re damned good at it! Then we are in a position to offer value. 2.  Listen to – then transform – the critical voice inside We all have a critical voice. Some are less critical. Some are loud while others are a mere whisper. It’s there and it is providing a running commentary on how we’re doing according to our internal filters. If we believe we’re good enough, that we have a right to be here and have a valuable contribution to make, our internal voice will be reinforcing those positive messages. If we sometimes (or often) question our worthiness, the value we bring and what we deserve in this life, our critical internal voice will reflect those filters. Whatever way we think will influence how we show up. That critical voice is simply providing us with information on how we really think about ourselves and the world around us. Given those beliefs are deep-seated, our critical voice is helpful in surfacing those beliefs so we can challenge the value they bring in our current situations and in relation to our dreams. Do they support or undermine our best efforts? We can be grateful for the voice and the information it provides … then choose to do what we need to. This is where courage comes in. We can’t make our unique contribution – in this case add another perspective so our clients can make wiser choices – unless we move past that critical voice that would have us play small to keep us safe. 3.  Ensure the message is clear Yes, receiving feedback can be challenging. Giving it can also be hard, particularly if you’ve grown up with a credo of not offending anyone. I used to get so frustrated when I found the courage to provide my opinion and then it wasn’t understood. I realised that the nice way I wrapped up what I was trying to say obscured the message. If I wanted to get my message across, I had to peel back the niceness to reveal its core. If your tendency is to wrap the feedback up to make it more palatable, ensure that you haven’t buried the nugget so deeply it gets lost. 4.  Focus on intent This starts with a personal question. Why am I giving this person feedback? ‘Is it kind, is it necessary?’ is a phrase I was taught years ago. Am I providing the disruption to demonstrate just how clever I am or am I truly seeking to be of service to the other person. Where it’s the latter, the desire comes through as part of the communication. If not, my ego seeking validation will be heard instead and that can set up an icky energy. Feedback is a gift. We often can’t see what’s going on in front of our noses; feedback is essential to expose and resolve our blindspots which are often the parts of ourselves that stand in our way. As thought leaders, we can be the light. So, to the second question: ‘Will it help the other person to hear what I could share? Is what I’m about to say the next natural step for that person for him/her to progress?’ Articulating the disruption, communication, feedback, seeking to resolve a conflict or enforce a boundary, however, can be difficult. I got to the point where I realised my clumsy