Something amazing has happened to you – you won an award or were recognised for your efforts on a piece of work, but not everyone is happy for you. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it feels like you’re being punished for doing something positive – but how can that be?
Welcome to ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’.
Tall Poppy Syndrome is when high-achieving individuals are met with envy, criticism, or even hostility from their peers. With the intersection of gender bias and societal expectations, this issue can take on a unique dimension and be very detrimental to a woman’s career. It is imperative to address Tall Poppy Syndrome if want to harness the potential of high-achievers to increase innovation and boost an organisation’s bottom line.
Tall Poppy Syndrome and its impact
Tall Poppy Syndrome primarily stems from deep-seated insecurities, bias, and societal norms. When applied to women, it is exacerbated by stereotypes that suggest women should be less ambitious than men. As a result, women who break these moulds and become visible are often subjected to harsh criticism and negative commentary. This can not only knock their confidence and hinder their personal growth but also perpetuates a culture that discourages women from pursuing leadership roles and achieving their full potential.
To empower women to overcome Tall Poppy Syndrome and advance inclusion, several strategies can be employed by organisational leaders:
- Promoting Inclusive Workplace Cultures: Building a nurturing and supportive environment is crucial. Both men and women must actively work to challenge and change the cultural norms that perpetuate Tall Poppy Syndrome. This includes speaking up about gender-based bias and advocating for inclusive workplaces where everyone can thrive.
- Mentorship, Role-Models, and Story-Telling: Providing women with mentorship opportunities and strong female role-models is essential. Having someone to guide and inspire them can help women navigate the challenges related to gender bias and stereotypes. By encouraging women to share their stories of overcoming Tall Poppy Syndrome, they can inspire others and create a sense of camaraderie among those facing similar obstacles.
- Promoting Self-Confidence: Women should be encouraged to have confidence in their abilities. Women celebrating their achievements and vocalising their aspirations can help shatter the glass ceiling and dispel the notion that ambition is undesirable in women.
- Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about the implications of Tall Poppy Syndrome and its negative impact on gender equity is vital. By educating teams about the harmful consequences of these biases, we can foster empathy and support for women who dare to excel.
- Inclusive Leadership Training and Collaborative Success: Inclusive leadership training that promotes respectful environments is fundamental for today’s leaders. Instead of one person’s achievement meaning another one’s failure, successes of any team members should be recognised and supported as reflections on the team. This can create a culture where high-achieving women are celebrated, not ostracised.
Empowering women to overcome Tall Poppy Syndrome and advance inclusion is not just a women’s issue; it’s a societal issue. To achieve true gender equity, we must collectively work to dispel harmful stereotypes and biases that hold women back. When women are engaged and enabled to excel, society as a whole benefits from their contributions to the workforce, economy, and leadership roles. It’s time to nurture a culture where women are celebrated, not criticised, for reaching their full potential. By implementing the strategies mentioned above, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future for all.
About the author
Lauren Neal is an award-winning chartered engineer and chartered project professional in the energy industry. She has worked with men and women offshore, onshore and onsite on multimillion-dollar global projects since 2005. She is the CEO of consultancy Valued at Work and is a sought-after speaker championing gender equity within STEM.
Lauren Neal is the author of Valued at Work: Shining a Light on Bias to Engage, Enable, and Retain Women in STEM (£14.99, Practical Inspiration)