The Devil Wears Prada: Meryl Streep and the Queen Bee myth

You’ve seen her splashed across the big screen, small screen, computer screen, and even your tablet screen, but have you ever actually met the fabled Executive Queen Bee? We’re talking about the stereotypical top female executive who stomps on other women on her way to the top, reveling in her success while ignoring or sabotaging the advancement of other women. According to a recent study by researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland’s business school, this Executive Queen Bee is a myth.  Queen Bee

A recent Washington Post article spotlighted this intriguing study noting, “One of the most enduring stereotypes in the American workplace is that of the ‘queen bee’: the executive female who, at best, doesn’t help the women below her get ahead and, at worst, actively hinders them.” Meryl Streep (an outspoken activist for wage equality and women’s rights) famously and stylishly portrayed a fictional Queen Bee in The Devil Wears Prada, which is based on a best-selling novel of the same name. In the film and novel, Streep’s character (Miranda Priestly) alternates between coldly ignoring and hotly abusing her female minions. For example, she demands that one of her female assistants acquire the new, unpublished Harry Potter novel with the underlying threat of immediate termination for failure to complete this seemingly impossible task. Such characters clearly make for excellent box office and book sales, but are these Executive Queen Bees a reality of the modern workplace?

On the contrary, the study in question found that, in companies with female CEOs, female employees’ chances of holding other high-level positions were somewhat improved. This study casts doubt on the existence of an Executive Queen Bee and suggests that implicit company quotas are to blame for statistics showing that, after a company hired one woman to a high-ranking position (other than CEO), the chances of a second woman landing a top position decreased by approximately 50 percent. Researchers suggest that companies feel pressured to add a female executive to their upper echelon to give the appearance of diversity and then feel like their job is done.

Regardless of the reason for the disparity, we should all rest a bit easier knowing that we are probably not going to see an actual Miranda Priestly striding into the corner office and demanding an advance copy of J.K. Rowling’s next Cormoran Strike novel (set to be released on October 20, 2015, for my fellow fans of her wizard-free detective series). Employers, however, would be well advised to continue to strive for diversity rather than simply the appearance of diversity. In addition, what a wonderful professional world it would be if we all abided by the Golden Rule while also considering ways to pay it forward through mentorships or other opportunities.  Now someone bring me my autographed Career of Evil manuscript and get Joanne on the phone pronto!