31/05/2016 5:42 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

Being A Mean Girl Is Like, Social Suicide

Up until recently, I would have agreed, at least in theory, that women pull the ladder up behind them. We have all seen it or experienced it. However, something is changing.

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Nurturing other women is far more powerful than deciding who sits with you at lunch.

More and more, women are standing up and claiming their places in workplaces, academia and leadership. While we have a long way to go, we are starting to see more women visible in roles that have been traditionally dominated by men. There are women in law, business, politics, leadership and medicine. Hillary Clinton is well poised to take the top job in the White House -- arguably the most powerful position in the world.

With slowly increasing numbers of women holding more senior positions, much has been made of the behaviour of women towards other women in the workplace. The 'Queen Bee' phenomenon, pulling ladders up behind us and comparisons to Mean Girls have all been discussed as yet another barrier relatively junior or inexperienced women have to face in the workplace.

The 'Queen Bee' phenomenon refers to women actively trying to protect their turf, especially when the Queen Bee is in a predominantly male environment. They have often disassociated from their own gender, having brass tacks bigger than the blokes they work with. In an effort to remain special, they sometimes head off their female competitors, actively discouraging them away from their own career path.

The reasons for this are myriad. One factor that features strongly from research from the Netherlands is that women who pull ladders up behind them are often the same women who experienced really tough gender discrimination during their own career climb. In the press, women attacking other women is the stuff of tabloid fodder. Because we don't have enough to contend with, let's say the sisterhood is out to get us.

Up until recently, I would have agreed, at least in theory, that women pull the ladder up behind them. We have all seen it or experienced it. However, something is changing. The sisterhood seems to be uniting. Not against an enemy front but rather just to help one another on what can be a tough climb of the career ladder.

I was away recently at a big medical conference where I was fortunate enough to meet some of my female colleagues from around the world. I attended a women in surgery networking event and socialised and networked with these incredibly bright, funny and friendly women. Rather than reliving high school days of Queen Bees and mean girls, my experience on this occasion was exactly the opposite.

These women were far from pulling up ladders and more about extending hands and sharing knowledge, contacts and support. The help I have received from my female colleagues in recent times has been nothing short of amazing. It's like the penny has collectively dropped. Women in difficult positions are starting to realise that united, we are stronger. Not only can we advance our own careers or those of the women we seek to mentor, but we can change the landscape in workplaces or academia for the better for many other people as well.

I feel very grateful to have found myself linked with these women. And what I personally have achieved with their help has been far greater than what I could have achieved by myself. Aside from that, these groups of bright women have stood up and demanded more in our workplaces for everyone. Not just mothers but fathers; not just women but other cultures or races.

As the demise of the mean girl marches forward, we know that great leaders, male or female, realise that leadership is a privilege and that nurturing someone else's intellectual, career, social and spiritual development far outweighs controlling who sits with you at lunch.