“Wow, she is such a queen bee!” says a jaded co-worker in another article talking about women in the work place. Time and time again, these articles resurface, drawing a connection between bossy women in the work place and queen bees. Usually the connotations are negative, that queen bees rule the office, bullying other women in an effort to “dominate the hive.” Its feminism backfired, they report. Women become so powerful that they oppress other women in an effort to keep their power, and in doing so replicate the struggles that they had to go through in order to get where they are. If you haven’t read this kind of article, here is a quick sample for you, courtesy of Google: On “Queen Bee Syndrome,” where women oppress each other in the work Place - http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1265356.ece.
There are all sorts of social meanings attached to the queen bee: bossy, controlling, smart, center of attention, captivating, oppressive, cruel, narrow-minded, forceful, uncompromising… But how much do people really know about this illusive queen bee? Are queen bees an accurate choice for a comparison about oppressive women in office politics? And since when was a “Queen Bee” a kind of syndrome?!!
It sounds like social scientists and commentators need to spend a summer with bees.*
In addition to checking countless hives for queen bees, I recently had the opportunity to visit the TEMA/MACAHEL Aricilik team in Artvin as they walked me through queen rearing – the art of raising and selling queen bees. Below I provide you with some interesting lessons about the illustrious queen bee, followed by an in depth photo documentary about making a queen. Maybe the more you and I learn about the queen, the more that we will think twice before misappropriating her into our own office politics.
* Please know that I am neither a professional beekeeper nor a professional queen rearer, rather, a social entrepreneur interested in the stories and potential behind bees and beekeeping for social good. The information I provide here comes through my ever improving second language, Turkish, my first hand experiences living in beekeeping communities in Turkey‘s northeast, and research I can find on the web. I write all of my posts from my fancy assortment of office spaces – including buses, pick up trucks, villages, and curb sides (brought to the world wide web by my mobile modem “VINCENT the VINN”).
1. Do queen bees rule the hive?
Not really. They are the only bee in the hive that actually lays eggs (in rare cases there are exceptions), and because they hold the future of the hive in their thorax, they are loved, adored, and nurtured by the worker bees and the drones. Everything is centered around the queen. Bees work together to control the temperature of the hive for their queen, and without the other bees, the queen cannot feed herself or survive. She rarely leaves the hive, and spends her glory days laying her weight in eggs. She can live up to five years, and therefore in theory, she outlives most of her friends and family (for the most popular girl in town, sounds pretty lonely to me).
2. Does a queen bee become a queen by bossing others around?
Not really. When a queen bee decides that its time for a new queen (for example, she is getting old, she has a broken leg, she is not feeling well, or the hive is getting too crowded and its time to swarm) she lays a regular egg in a special shaped queen cell that will grow vertically rather than horizontally. The worker bees then nurture the cell, feeding it only ari sutu (royal jelly). It’s the worker bees that make the queen bee who she is, through nourishment and “the royal treatment.” When a new queen is born, the old queen will take a swarm and establish a new hive else where, or she will hang around in retirement.
3. Well, where does the reputation of a “ruthless queen” come from?
Life in the hives can be brutal. For example, if there is no queen, the worker bees will work together to raise a new queen as soon as possible, and to ensure the future of the hive, they lay many new virgin queens. Once the new queens hatch, the queens will fight to the death by stinging each other (unlike other bees, queens do not die after they sting).
4. OK. Does a queen bee from a hive have anything in common with the queen bee parallelism in office politics? Where did that come from?
It depends what angle you take. For example, queen bees only ever rival other queen bees (not other workers). Generally speaking, the queen bee is not a glorious role. Would you rather be visiting flowers or laying eggs all day? Worker bees love their queen and do not rival her, they also choose her, raise her, and can kill her or raise a new queen if they decide. So if it’s about new queens fighting, then the analogy might apply. But for the most part, the relationship between the queen and her office, ie. the hive, is a complex system of survival and mutual social support.
Below is more information and many many photos… you decide for yourself. What do you think it means to be a “queen bee” in the office, and is there another analogy that would be more appropriate?