How Women Navigate Competition in the Workplace

Topic(s): fairness, gender
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior
Article: Catty, bitchy, queen bee or sister? A review of competition among women in organizations from a paradoxical-coopetition perspective
Authors: R. Kark, N. Yacobovitz, L. Segal-Caspi, S. Kalker-Zimmerman
Reviewed by: Grace Cox

The workplace tends to be a highly competitive place, and this seems to be especially true for women. Women are often placed into a paradoxical role where they are supposed to compete for power and influence while also remaining collaborative and helpful to each other. Researchers have begun to investigate the nature of how competition manifests for women in the workplace.


The authors (Kark et al., 2024) conducted a systematic literature review, looking at 141 articles focused on how women compete with other women in the workplace. In general, they found that women tend to avoid competition when they can, especially compared with men. When women do compete, it tends to be when there are favorable circumstances and not much risk. Both men and women tend to show indirect competitiveness with each other (or “cattiness’), although men demonstrate it more often. However, women are often penalized to a greater extent for their “catty” behavior.

Previously, various stereotypic roles have been ascribed to women in organizations, especially women in power. These roles may be named “queen bee” or “worker bee.” This review found that, despite their popularity, the existence of these roles is not supported by scientific research. In fact, counter to the “queen bee” mentality, the authors found that women in leadership tend to mentor and elevate other women working under them, rather than try to block their success.

There was also evidence that women in leadership are still held to stereotypical feminine expectations – for example, a requirement to be caring and nurturing. Even with these expectations, when women in higher status positions or professions want to collaborate, they must prove that they are not competitive and will instead show compassion and solidarity with each other.


This review demonstrates that women are often in a precarious position when engaging in competition in the workplace. While each organization needs to determine its own approach to addressing gender inequality, this review suggests a couple of important points:

  • Recognize the existing paradox of competition-cooperation that women face in the workplace. By acknowledging and affirming this struggle, women can realize that their experiences are legitimate. This may help reduce feelings of guilt or shame when women do want to compete, especially against other women.
  • Address gender inequality problems at an organizational level. If women are left to feel like they need to fix gender inequality problems by themselves, it can contribute to burnout, as well as lead others to judge women more harshly.


Kark, R., Yacobovitz, N., Segal-Caspi, L., & Kalker-Zimmerman, S. (2024). Catty, bitchy, queen bee or sister? A review of competition among women in organizations from a paradoxical-coopetition perspective. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 45, 266-294.

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