Staying Competitive in Your Healthcare Career While Helping Others

March 12, 2013

Those of us who are farther along in our careers, who’ve achieved work-life balance, should allow others to learn from our successes and failures and extend a helping hand.

I read a great article last week in The Wall Street Journal about a phenomenon I’ve seen often but never had a name for. It is called the Queen Bee effect. Basically it goes like this: You have a superstar woman who shoots to the top of her profession.  It is assumed that she will extend a helping hand to the women who are following her path but instead she erects additional barriers to make their own climb more challenging. I’ve experienced this and know that it unfortunately abounds in multiple professions. 

There are a lot of theories as to why it occurs.  Maybe the “queen bee” doesn’t want competition or is jealous of a younger colleague.  Maybe the queen bee feels that her professional journey was very challenging and doesn’t want to make it easier for anyone else, along the lines of “if I can do it, you can do it.” Whatever reason she has, the queen bee has the potential to demoralize the women who are not as far along the professional path.

Recently, Marissa Mayer made headlines when she reversed Yahoo’s work-at-home policy. I’m not accusing her of being a “queen bee” but this could be an example of queen bee behavior. 

Professional, accomplished women often have a challenging time bridging the divide between work and home, particularly when their children are young. I know very few people who work from home that don’t dedicate at least the same or more hours to their jobs, in part to prove that they really are working hard. I recognize there may be very good arguments for ending this policy, but I wonder how all those work-at-home employees feel.

 This is a situation described between women, but I am sure variations occur both between and within genders. How unfortunate. If you’ve worked really hard to be successful, is there a reason not to be gracious to those trying the same thing? Is there any benefit to making it harder for them? I think about residency education. There was a lot of this behavior in medical education and the residency review committee is slowly chipping away at the notion that in order to be a skilled and competent physician you need to be tough enough to work for 36 hours straight or work more than 100 hours a week. Even within myself, it’s hard to tamp down that part of me that feels that if I did it, then the new trainees should do it too. After all, I survived, right?

Wrong! I suffered through those 36-hour shifts and 100-hour work weeks. I was miserable and certainly not learning well during those times. There is no benefit to the commando approach to medical education or professional development. People who are stressed and overwhelmed don’t perform well long-term and their mental and emotional health suffers.

The bottom line is that those of us who are farther along in our careers, who’ve achieved work-life balance, who have accomplished those things we set out to accomplish, should not only allow others to learn from our successes and failures, but we should extend a helping hand and make it easier for them to do it.