The "queen bee" is dying. You’ve heard of her, right? She’s that senior businesswoman at the top of her field who didn’t help other women get ahead—or, worse yet, actively worked against them. Was she just a natural bitch? It’s easy to see her that way. After all, this character is as much a crude stereotype of the modern workplace as a real pattern of behavior tracked by researchers.
But consider this: Perhaps she simply knew that there was only one seat—maybe two at best—for women at the executive table. Maybe she watched the women before her settle into middle-management purgatory, and she didn’t know another way forward. It’s even likely that over the course of her career she grasped how, as researchers now know, women who fight for other women are often penalized for it.
The business world is finally changing, though, and the queen bee’s reign is ending. Women now have more opportunities and incentives to support one another than ever before—which makes gender equality in the American workplace a high likelihood sooner than you may think. Here’s why.
The numbers don’t lie, and they’re piling up. In one McKinsey study, gender-diverse companies were found to be 15% more likely to perform better than their competitors. In this joint Intel and Dalberg report, tech companies with even one female leader had a 13%–16% higher enterprise value (once you control for age, size, profitability, and revenue) than firms with all-male leadership. Or take this one from First Round Capital, which notes that their investments in companies with female founders performed 63% better than companies with all-male founding teams.
And that’s not to mention research on gender diversity from Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, Catalyst, and the World Economic Forum all showing similarly positive findings. As the evidence mounts, we’re heading closer to a tipping point.
Business leaders who still believe (unconsciously or not) that having women in leadership positions doesn’t add anything to the bottom line are going to have a harder time getting their boards, investors, shareholders, and even their employees to believe that they aren’t leaving performance gains on the table. (Those recalcitrant execs may begin to even sound—dare I say it—emotional about their insistence to the contrary? Even irrational?)
Technology is bringing down the cost of starting businesses so much that more of us are finding entrepreneurialism within reach. It’s not just the declining cost of technology, either—it’s the declining costs of so many things, from short-term office leases and video conferencing that cuts down on business travel to the plethora of administrative functions you can now outsource cheaply.
According to a recent American Express report, the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. has grown five times faster than the national average since 2007. Also awesome? Of the 3.5 million women-owned companies launched between 2007 and 2016, 78% are owned by women of color. And on balance, a BNP Paribas report finds, women’s businesses are outperforming those run by men.
Freelancing is also becoming a more viable career option for many of us (53% of full-time freelancers are women). Women are more likely than men to freelance for extra income, schedule flexibility, and to escape office dynamics. So rather than trying to adapt to make an often unaccommodating structure work for us, we’re going solo and working on our terms—successfully.
Today, women are nearly four times more likely than men to believe we won’t advance in our careers because of our gender. Yikes. It’s the old "you can’t be what you can’t see" phenomenon.
Looking at this in reverse, though, you can be what you can see. So expect that statistic to go down. When I see someone like me who’s successful it offers me a roadmap. Visible, successful female entrepreneurs encourage other women to become entrepreneurs: Go Jessica Herrin; go Alli Webb; go Julie Wainwright! Visible, successful senior managers encourage other women to become senior managers: Go Indra Nooyi; go Ginni Rometty; go Meg Whitman!
This is also important because so many people who hold the purse strings out there—venture capitalists and other funders—fall prey to "pattern recognition." It’s just a fact of human psychology, but it causes them to back businesses that look sort of like the last business they funded, and to fund entrepreneurs who look sort of like the last entrepreneur they funded. Corporate executives do it too; again and again, I’ve seen them promote people similar to them. But as more successful women become ever more visible in the business world, it chips away at this self-reinforcing bias. Fortunately, that’s already well underway.
Gloria Steinem has argued that women are the only demographic group that grows more politically and socially radical with age, and it’s true. I can’t tell you how often I’m with senior women who express disbelief that we haven’t made more progress so far. A handful of factors are finally turning that frustration into real leverage. Women in the U.S. control $5 trillion in investable assets, direct over 80% of consumer spending, and make up just more than half the U.S. workforce.
At the same time, and perhaps because of this, the old economic systems that wrapped up our worth in a ring and husband are starting to crumble, as the journalist Rebecca Traister points out; at an unprecedented level, single women are now steering the conversation on issues like the minimum wage, paid family leave, affordable childcare, and college that doesn’t bury students in debt.
Combine this with the increased transparency that technology brings, and now we can also choose to direct our substantial resources to work for companies that treat us well (for instance, by using Fairygodboss to compare companies’ employee policies), buy from companies whose values align with ours (BuyUp Index), and/or invest in companies with more women in senior leadership (my own Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund).
This may be just the beginning. More and more, women are putting serious money behind other women and initiatives. This summer, a group of Wall Street women funded the movie Equity (about women on Wall Street); and I’ve recently announced a new round of financing for my company, Ellevest (a digital investment platform for women), that includes both traditional institutional providers, as well as successful women like Venus Williams; Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments; and women investors at Broadway Angels and Astia Angels. These are just a few promising first steps to women consciously using their financial power to help other women advance.
As the "queen bee" paradigm ends, so does the learned helplessness with which she accepted corporate America as it was. Women are already investing in one another’s success at a level unprecedented in human history. It’s shaping up to be one of the most powerful and disruptive forces in business and society today. The dividends are adding up faster than you might think. And it’s about damn time.