Jodi’s Journal: Queen bees, online cliques and women in the media

By Jodi Schwan

Warranted or not, I’m always really careful when I write about women in the workplace.

I feel like it’s treading in territory where if I’m not precise with my words, I risk emotional misinterpretation.

But multiple encounters recently have caused me to realize we still have far to go, societally and individually, when it comes to maximizing the skills women offer to the workplace.

First, I read an eye-opening article in The Atlantic titled “The Queen Bee in the Corner Office.”

It broke down what it called common personality traits among female law partners, noting that while law school classes were relatively balanced between genders, only about 20 percent of law partners nationwide are female.

And, at least at the firm profiled in this article, they weren’t very well-liked. OK, actually, they were divided into three categories: the “aggressive bitch,” the “passive-aggressive bitch” and the “tuned-out, indifferent bitch.”

“They were known as bitchy, bossy, didn’t want to hear excuses,” a former employee said. “Almost every girl cried at some point.”

Maybe not surprisingly, the piece went on to cite multiple surveys in which women nationwide said they would prefer to work for men. One study even revealed women working for female bosses had more trouble sleeping and headaches.

Research suggests several reasons why this could be, including evolutionary factors, but the one that stuck with me involved tokenism. Ladies, many of you in the business community know what I mean. This is what exists when you’re the only woman on the executive team. The only one on the board of the directors. The only one invited to be on the ad-hoc committee.

Psychologically, this creates the perception that there are a limited number of spots at the top for a woman – and if you’ve got one, there might not be room to uplift another.

“Queen bee behavior arises … when a woman believes the path to success is so narrow, she can barely squeeze through herself, let alone try to bring others along with her,” the article continued.

If you are witnessing this in your organization, take a look at how many women are in leadership roles as a percentage of your workforce. Research has shown women who feel there are multiple paths and opportunities for success within an organization are more likely to be supportive of other women.

The 2017 Women in Media conference in Sioux Falls.

I thought about this concept when I participated in the inaugural Women in the Media conference held in Sioux Falls this past week and organized by SDSU. This first-of-its-kind event drew women to Sioux Falls from multiple states to talk about the unique issues facing women in the media industry.

For instance, one researcher shared a voicemail left for a woman who works at a Georgia television station.

“Please go to Target and buy some decent maternity clothes so you don’t walk around looking like you got a watermelon strapped under your too tight outfits,” the caller said.

The public is quick to judge – often harshly – women in the media in ways that men don’t encounter.

Women in this industry often need unique support because of it, which concerns me because there also is a gender gap when it comes to top management roles.

The International Women’s Media Foundation reported that globally 73 percent of top media management jobs are held by men.

A 2014 American Society of News Editors newsroom census found that while women represent more than half of communication school graduates, they account for 35 percent of newspaper supervisors and run just three of the nation’s 25 largest publications. Women, as of 2014, made up 31 percent of television news directors and 20 percent of general managers, despite making up more than 40 percent of the television workforce.

The irony, of course, is that media outlets depend on advertising. Advertisers often want to reach women because they tend to make purchasing decisions. But those overseeing the content that accomplishes that often are not women.

I think this matters more than ever, and not just for the industry’s bottom-line. At a time when those in media seem quick to feed controversy, women could be skilled at bringing better perspective to coverage if they were put in greater decision-making roles. And while other industries have been intentional about trying to grow female leadership, I’ve not seen a broad-based effort in the media.

Finally, I’ve been picking up on another theme that might be worth noting.

We publish many pieces about women’s accomplishments in business – women starting businesses, women being promoted, women making significant impacts on their organizations.

Because we are a digital product, I see when people share these pieces. Call it the 21st century way of talking someone up. And I often see women liking and sharing the achievements of other women, which is great. But, here’s my challenge for you: Think about the last time you liked or shared something involving a woman because you respected what she had accomplished and not simply because she was your friend.

Social media has helped create online cliques of women just like office environments cultivate them. There’s nothing wrong with drawing on a group of women for support, but let’s make sure we’re sharing the accolades beyond our small circles.

The other day, my co-worker Rosemary McCoy pointed out that almost every story we had published that day involved a woman as the central figure. It was unintentional. These women had been featured by us because they had started businesses, taken on new roles and been selected by their organizations to share their expertise. It was a wonderful reminder to me that while we still might have a way to go, this business community is evolving in a positive direction.

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Jodi’s Journal: Queen bees, online cliques and women in the media

Warranted or not, I’m always really careful when I write about women in the workplace.

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