Tips for Working with a Difficult Female Boss

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Multiple studies show that female bosses can be some of the most difficult to work for, much less advance under, especially if you are also a woman. Male "bully" bosses are less discriminatory than women who single out women and tend to dole out unfair practices regardless of gender. The most widely accepted theory is that women must struggle to rise up the corporate ladder, often paying more than their fair share of dues, and therefore, expect others to suffer just as much as they did.

The Queen Bee Syndrome

In 2011, the American Management Association conducted a survey of working women. Published findings reported that 95% of female respondents believed that they have been undermined by another woman at least once in their careers. This is an abuse of power is seen at all levels but can be particularly frustrating when it involves high ranking female bosses who don't promote other women because they are women. According to Dr. Robi Ludiwg, contributing writer to, in the 1970s there was even a term coined to describe difficult female bosses: Queen Bee Syndrome and the phenomenon seems to have only grown more commonplace over time.

An article in the Wall Street Journal describes just how widespread this problem is, "A 2007 survey of 1,000 American workers released by the San Francisco-based Employment Law Alliance found that 45% of respondents had been bullied at the office-verbal abuse, job sabotage, misuse of authority, deliberate destruction of relationships-and that 40% of the reported bullies were women.

In 2010, the Workplace Bullying Institute, a national education, and advocacy group reported that female bullies directed their hostilities toward other women 80% of the time-up 9% since 2007. Male bullies, by contrast, were generally equal-opportunity tormentors."

Certainly, not all women in power behave as badly as a quick search on Google for "Queen Bee Syndrome" would have you believe, but it is true that in most countries women still have to fight and claw their way to the top.

Few make it there, fewer remain there. According to, in 2013, women currently only hold 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.6 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO positions. As dismal a statistic as that may seem (especially when you consider that women own half of all privately held companies in the United States) this is actually an improvement over previous years.

Additionally, the number of women taking the role of chief financial officer increased 35 percent at big U.S. companies in the past year, putting more female executives in the top ranks of management after decades of slow gains ( But before you start doing cartwheels for gender equality in the workplace, bear in mind that 90% of all CFOs are still men, and only 54 women are CFOs among Standard and Poor Index Companies. Fifty. Four.

Why Do Women In Power Undermine Other Women?

The most widely accepted theories include women must struggle to rise up the corporate ladder, often paying more than their fair share of dues, and therefore, expect other women to suffer just as much as they did. Another popular explanation is that women who rise in power are eager to keep it and, by an example of men and the unwritten rules of being in charge, are required to exercise (abuse) their authority.

What better way to show men you are their equal than to show that you don't favor women?

Despite an available plethora of opinions as to why powerful women undermine other women, the bottom line is that it really does not matter what broad statistics report when you are the one being bullied or undervalued. Women are human and human motives are always unique to each individual and rather than waste time trying to understand your boss, focus on solutions on how to work around her if you cannot work with her. 

Tips On Getting Ahead When Your Queen Bee Boss Wants To Keep You Down

First, you will need to accept that you are not going to change how your female boss thinks, feels, or operates. Rather than trying to persuade her of your own worthiness, instead, you need to focus on ways that you can demonstrate it, document it, and become your own advocate.

Volunteer for hard tasks, committees, or anything else that can earn you visibility beyond your boss.

If you suspect your boss takes credit for your work, you will need to start your own brag campaign. The key is to not make it personal. Do not accuse your boss of stealing your thunder, but to use "clean" campaign politics to win a promotion.

For example, if you work on a special, or high-profile project document all that you do and thank your boss in a formal email (feel free to copy her own boss or other team players) for letting you work in the project. Be specific. If your new idea saved the company money, state that you were grateful for the chance to contribute (list your ideas and contributions) in such a meaningful way because you are so devoted to the corporate goals of your employer.

If you genuinely believe you will never be promotable because of your boss (male or female) look for a lateral move to another department or a better boss. I am a firm believer in never burning your bridges and never throwing someone under the bus so you can gain an advantage. Ask for a transfer for professional - not personal reasons. To say your boss is impossible to work with only makes you look bad, to say you have valuable skills that you are unable to fully use in your current position, or that you want to do more for your employer, makes you look like a go-getter.

Remember, your boss, even a bad boss, is likely to have the support of upper management and human resources. She may be a difficult to work for, but a delight to work with as a peer. Her complaints and grouchy, short greetings directed at her subordinates could be all smiles and congeniality in other corners of the office world.

The question you need to ask yourself is simple: what can I do to increase my chances of getting ahead? It should never be, "how can I get back at my boss?" If you ponder the last question more than a few passing fantasy moments, you are no better than Queen Bee herself.