GLINDA, the Good Witch of the North: Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?
DOROTHY: I’m not a witch at all. I’m Dorothy Gale from Kansas.
GLINDA, the Good Witch of the North: Oh. Well, is that the witch?
DOROTHY: Who, Toto? Toto’s my dog!
Witches have been on my mind lately, and it’s not because of Halloween. It’s because reports stress that the Queen Bee at Work syndrome is still very much alive.
But is being a tough and difficult woman in the workplace a bad thing? Can there be good witches at work? Maybe it’s more complicated than just writing off a woman as a total b****.
We spoke with Mean Girls at Work authors Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster for some expert advice about those witches at work and whether or not they all deserve to get houses dropped on them.
According to a new report by Peggy Drexler in The Wall Street Journal, the Queen Bee problem is getting worse as more and more women are ascending into management roles.
“Something is clearly amiss in the professional sisterhood,” Drexler writes. From The Wall Street Journal:
“This generation of queen bees is no less determined to secure their hard-won places as alpha females. Far from nurturing the growth of younger female talent, they push aside possible competitors by chipping away at their self-confidence or undermining their professional standing. It’s a trend thick with irony: The very women who have complained for decades about unequal treatment now perpetuate many of the same problems by turning on their own.
“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.”
The Bad Witches
Crowley tells us that “the problem is these women who find themselves in high positions don’t know how to compete in healthy ways. Instead, they use their power to squish other women down. It’s a fear of loss. They’re trying to protect their hard-won territory and they don’t understand that they could help women below them and still be competitive.”
These would be your Wicked Witch of the West types. They’re so scared about losing any bit of their powers that they’re completely threatened by a young woman with a shiny pair of shoes.
Crowley says that women at a certain level need to realize that they really can’t be threatened. She points out that Hillary Clinton probably doesn’t worry about young women stealing the spotlight from her. How could they? She’s Hillary Clinton!
Elster says the Bad Witch/Good Witch theory very much exists in the workplace. The bad witches are “the meanest of the mean. They’re basically so narcissistic that they want every woman gone. Every woman is a threat. There’s no reasoning with them,” she says.
Crowley adds, “What they’re missing is the basic ingredient of empathy, that basis of reality. They can’t imagine another woman’s reality. They take an adversarial approach to other women. The default setting is that they don’t have enough. They don’t have enough power and never enough respect because they’re starting from an empty place.”
The Good Witches
But can there be tough women who actually help us and make us better at our jobs? Glinda may have looked all sweet in that bubblegum pink dress, but she pretty much tells Dorothy to just go find some strange man, and her only source of a GPS would be that yellow brick road over there. But Dorothy does find the Wizard, and she’s reminded by Glinda herself that she had the power and strength the whole time. It’s Glinda that tells her she didn’t need some recluse of a man or fancy shoes to get to where she really wanted to be.
Glinda acts as a guide—not a BFF—to Dorothy, and that’s okay. She has her network (Scarecrow and Tin Man and Lion) for support.
“The problem is women still want to be liked and still compete the way men do. They compete and then they move on. We really have to practice the way men do it,” Crowley says. “Women go in expecting to be friends with everyone, even their boss. They expect her to be their girlfriend, and when it turns out she isn’t that, she’s not just a Queen Bee, she’s a b****.”
This makes me think of something Kelly Cutrone said during her Office Hours with Levo:
“I really don’t care about your personal life. I don’t care what a 22-year-old did over the weekend,” she said. “Sometimes I can barely say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ and nine out of 10 times, I really don’t care about the answer. You give people work, they give you a paycheck. Anything else is gravy or no gravy for me. It’s the Kelly Cutrone Show.”
Basically, you can still be a good boss even if you aren’t your employees’ best friend. Cutrone is a good boss because, though she may be really tough on people, she tells them she knows they’re smart and that’s why she’s pushing them so hard. She has high expectations for them.
“We expect that [kind of leadership] in a man, a parent, and a good teacher. With our boss, that’s really a form of flattery if they do that. If your boss is pushing you, that means she believes in you,” Crowley says. “The difference between a Good Witch and a Bad Witch is that a Good Witch knows how to be tough in a way that no one feels threatened.”
How do Crowley and Elster’s insights change your position on Good Witches and Bad Witches at work? Share in the comments!