Seven (7) Ways to Respond to Bullying and a Queen Bee

Are you experiencing prolonged harassment?  It may be that you may have just encountered a bully, or, when adding gender into the mix, experiencing an adult “mean girl.” As the number of women in the workforce and in leadership increases, stress in leadership roles has naturally affected women, as it does men,  and can include gender-nuanced displays of ongoing aggression.

Photo by Pixabay on

Both men and women may experience competitiveness, lack of support, undermining and perhaps some hazing and harassment.   The term “King Wasp” has also been used recently, referencing the lesser known action by Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly.  He axed the popular and original flexible work program there, named the “Results-Only Work Environment” or ROWE.  Time and business results will tell if either Queen or Wasp names are deserved.

Queen Bee Lego person, by levork, Flickr
Queen Bee Lego person, by levork, Flickr

Aggressive acts could also be forms of professional, or even personal jealousy.  They may want what you have, especially if you are appear as more intelligent in meetings, are younger, more fit, prettier or have some other quality they envy.


“There is no either / or between being competitive and collaborative. You have to be both and decide which in each situation.”

~ Cathie Black, Former Chairman and President, Hearst Magazines, on the realities of corporate business


I first heard the term,”Queen Bee,” at my alma mater, University of Michigan, as a young professional in my 20s.  The woman so named had some of the characteristics.  However, my experience is that she mentored many, many women successfully, so for her, the term did not stick.

An article by Catalyst highlights, in contrast, that women do indeed help other women get ahead, citing that women leaders are more likely to develop new female talent than men are:

65% percent of women who received career development support are now developing new talent, compared to 56% percent of men—and 73% of the women developing new talent are developing other women, compared to 30 percent of men.

Source:  Paying It Forward Pays Back for Business Leaders,

However, as reported in the Wall Street Journal:

A 2011 survey of 1,000 working women by the American Management Association found that 95% of them believed they were undermined by another woman at some point in their careers.

According to a 2008 University of Toronto study of nearly 1,800 U.S. employees, women working under female supervisors reported more symptoms of physical and psychological stress than did those working under male supervisors.

Source:  WSJ, March 2013


“Paying it forward is an essential element of being an outstanding leader, and it benefits everyone involved—it’s a virtuous circle that leads to more of the same.” ~ Ilene H. Lang, President & CEO of Catalyst


As to the motivations and context for adult bullies and women in particular:

…it seems that bullies share certain motivations — need for attention, fear of competition, anger at the way they’re treated at home. And in the long-term, female bullies suffer as much as male bullies, because eventually, those closest to them tire of the manipulations, though there’s a lack of research as to whether female bullies turn to drugs and alcohol and end up in jail at the same rates that male bullies do.

There are a few key differences, though: Male bullies come in all shapes and sizes, from the popular football captain to the social outcast, while female bullies tend to be the popular girls (another factor that may help them escape punishment).

And while some male bullies appear to lash out because they haven’t developed empathy for others, girls seem to possess ample amounts of empathy; so much so, in fact, that they know exactly how to harm a perceived threat.

…female bullies know how to get a fellow female to divulge a secret, and then she knows how to reveal it in a way that will maximize the embarrassment for the victim.

Source:  Are there differences between male and female bullies?

Why tolerated? Why allowed?

For those who have encountered harassment, a Queen Bee or a bully, here are some resources from a session I taught at the Center for Independent Living in Ann Arbor, using material I gleaned from research and from a Wayne State professor who has special knowledge of workplace aggression and peer witnessing as a method to deal with bullying.

The full collection is on here.  It was sobering to also see the topic filled the room. We dug into the topic for two hours.


The most frequent form of workplace aggression is not physical, it is emotional and psychological in nature.  

~ Loraleigh Keashly, Ph.D.  

Interpersonal and Systemic Aspects of Emotional Abuse at Work:  The Target’s Perspective, Violence and Victims, New York: 2001. Vol. 16, Iss. 3; pg. 233, 32 pgs


We discussed the following seven (7) points:

  1. Realize that as the target of a bully, your power is limited.
  2. Take great care before using traditional, upward reporting as it could actually make it worse.
  3. Take notice of the power of your peer networks, including “peer witnesses” of bullying incidents; simply having someone else show up and observe the situation can eliminate the immediate threat.
  4. Remember that often it really isn’t about you, though the impact of a bully’s behavior is very real.
  5. Reach out to others outside of the hierarchy for help and perspective.  If your organization has a confidential, respected Employee Assistance Program, (EAP), use it!
  6. Maintain your professionalism at all times.
  7. Talk with family, friends and your peer networks.  They can be a  lifeline when the going gets rough.

My experience in teaching on the 7 points:

Deb Nystrom, Bullying at Work facilitator, with the Center for Independent Living group
Deb Nystrom, Bullying at Work facilitator, with the Center for Independent Living group

I was moved and appalled, listening to stories and struggles by those who already dealing with challenges in their lives such as a disability, trauma or condition affecting the way they negotiated workplace demands.

I marveled at how they attempted to cope with those adding harassment or bullying to their workloads.  The peer network information and research on what actions to take in a bullying situation seemed to help.

It was also a catharsis for me.  I had suffered through a year of bullying at one time in higher education.  It was a male supervisor, not a female.  Fortunately, a network of female leaders and colleagues and my family supported me during that difficult time.

I told the group, if someone like me, with many resources, a confident personality and a large network of helpful people struggled as I did, even more so we need to help each other when harassment and bullying happens on the job.

Thanks to Lisa Mangigian for her leadership in organizing and following through and to Stephanie Stiles for the blog post on the CIL website, and her photography support at the session.  


“Don’t just stand for the success of other women – insist on it.” 

~ Gail Blanke, President and CEO, Lifedesigns


Deb continues in her role as President of Reveln Consulting, LLC and welcomes an introductory conversation with you. Contact Deborah Nystrom at 734-846-5631, or email Deb,


Related posts & tools by Deb:

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Published by dnrevel

Change & transition, Leadership team & organization development. Executive Leadership team coach. My LinkedIn profile:

11 thoughts on “Seven (7) Ways to Respond to Bullying and a Queen Bee

  1. Great article. It brought back some interesting memories. Shortly after becoming a single mom many years ago, a woman was key in my getting work in a major national corporation. Needless to say this was a lifesaver for me. Within a year it was this same woman and our female acting director who in tandem harassed me daily. I was doing exceptionally well and their senior mgmt were aware of it – thus the reason to make me look bad. I reported their behaviour to HR who on the QT arranged a transfer to another department, and the women were put on notice about was expected from them in the future. Hmmm- I’d forgotten about this. Just as well…


    1. Wow! Patricia, your story is so similar to mine. I was bullied and harassed by the same woman I believe was key in hiring me. It started to escalate oce I was doing exceptionally well, and her Boss and the internal mgmt team were aware of it. Unfortunately for me, I was on contract, about to become permanent based on my performance. But she stooped a slow as fabricating lies (which she couldn’t substantiate) and then changing my job description without telling me. Interestingly, this Manager has a high turnover rate in the concerns she manages (5 out of 7 people left in a span of 14 months- all of them were the stronger performers, most amicable and fairest team players- these are well-paying jobs too). I did try to seek HR support, but HR was useless, although at first they said they could arrange a transfer. I was compelled to leave- but I believe it is affecting my ability to get a job now.

      It is good to hear that HR actually helped you.


  2. Pat, thanks so much for your example story. It’s so rich in helping illumine the issues.

    it is unfortunate that in some situations, someone who helps you and perhaps helps themselves or their organization) by helping you can later turn on you. Why is it that the altruism that once was, evaporates?

    When a former supervisor/boss/ client/colleague supporter can becomes a harasser or bully, as I’ll bet you know, “It’s not about you,” type of projection and insecurity” takes over. Connectedness to loved ones sure does help make it through such tough situations.

    In my situation, 6-7 HR related administrators were involved. Can you imagine the productivity and learning losses because of one determined bully?!

    Thank goodness good friends and family, including ourselves as our own friends (believing in ourselves) which make all the difference.

    ~ Deb


    1. Deb, I loved reading your article, and I am becoming more immersed in these kinds of issues. It started with an interest in sexism/inequality within the workplace, but I found there is a two-tier aspect to this. Not just sexism and bullying from male counterparts, but more often than not – the additional issue which you highlight here.
      I have had two female bosses in my working career, and both were bullies, and incredibly controlling.
      The first owned a small pr agency and she was very much from the Cruella school of charm- shouting and belittling, and even expected me to lie to keep my job. So I quit. She then went as so far as contacting my subsequent employer – undermining me and belittling my ability in order for them to reconsider the job offer. Fortunately they had been one of my clients and so they saw through the attempted sabotage. Next came my more recent boss. She joined the company I worked for, and immediately asked me to change my job title (as she felt it was too similar to hers, which she had self-prescribed!) After some time, she would attempt to chip away at my, and manipulate clients and editors. Again, they saw through this, (and in many cases I ignored it); my confidence had grown, so I just let her dig her own hole. She ended up being made redundant. She went so far as to tell me about jobs in other companies which I should apply for – I knew this was another tactic to get me to leave, perhaps because she felt threatened in some way.
      I actually believe that these behaviours stem from a deep-rooted insecurity, common in bullying behaviour. The antidote I guess is to instill confidence in female employees, and use reverse coaching methods for women in management positions, to ensure that they see what behaviours are not acceptable or conducive to good work ethics. So that’s what I’m starting to look into! I really loved reading your article. It resonated completely. Thank you!
      Best wishes


      1. Becky, if I can help one person with my blog posts, I consider that well worth the time it takes to write them. I’m delighted it resonated and helped! I am hopeful that your comments and experiences will help others who are suffering from ongoing bullying and “mean girls” behavior that goes beyond isolated aggression to ongoing targeting, as you describe.

        Kudos to you for also describing the belief you have in yourself. You seem to have succeeded in creating the boundaries so essential to minimize the impact of toxic, ongoing bully behavior that can be so harmful to health and spirit. Feel free to let us know how the learning continues in having a healthy response to workplace bullying and bullying in life.

        Warmest regards, ~ Deb


  3. “Queen Bee” originated at the University of Michigan? When I was in elementary school in Texas in the early ’70s, complaining about one of my classmates one day, my mom surmised that the girl must be a queen bee. I had never heard the term before and it made an impression. This was, at the latest, 1973, before academics “coined” the phrase in Psychology Today.

    My mom was a very intelligent woman and homemaker who, I’m fairly certain, wasn’t reading academic research from the University of Michigan. I suspect the researchers picked up on a term already in use in the wild, coined at the University of Mom.


    1. Interesting to hear of the term used earlier. And likely, if your mom used it, it was in use earlier, perhaps in the 50s or 60s. I stand corrected and will add a note to the post soon.


  4. I experienced bullying from a queen bee within a religious organization. She and I were co-chairs of a book club and she has behaved inappropriately towards me ever since we met. Of course this is not the same thing as a work situation and I dropped out of the group. However, when I see her occasionally she does not even utter the usual social niceties. She has been honored by this organization many times for the hard work she has done. However, IMO her egregious behavior negates ALL of it!!


    1. Hi Nancy, and thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear of your situation, though it is good you were able to make choices to exit the environment where this toxic behavior occured. I hope there will be much more positive and welcoming relationships to be built into the next place you land to share your skills and expertise.


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