Tall poppy syndrome, a phenomenon where people of high status or achievement are criticized or resented by others, is not new. Unfortunately, it is a reality many women face in their personal and professional lives. Despite making strides toward gender equality, women are still subject to unfair treatment, and the tall poppy syndrome is just one example.
Women who achieve success, whether in their careers or personal lives, are often subjected to criticism and scrutiny. I have seen it. You have seen it. We have ALL seen women criticized and attacked for earning that promotion, selling their business, finishing their Ph.D., or landing that new job. This criticism can be harsh and unforgiving, leading to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. As a result, women may downplay their successes, play small, or even give up on their goals altogether.
In the workplace, women who stand out and excel are often met with hostility from their colleagues and superiors. They may be accused of being arrogant, pushy, or challenging to work with … or my personal favorite, “She’s bossy.”
The tall poppy syndrome can significantly impact women’s mental health. Constant criticism and scrutiny can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Women may feel like they are not good enough or do not deserve their success leading to feelings of imposter syndrome (this one hits pretty close to home, but I’ll save that topic for a future column.)
Social media has also played a significant role in the tall poppy syndrome. Women with a large following or a high-profile online presence are often subjected to harassment and abuse. Those trolls and keyboard warriors, who would NEVER have the guts to say any of their rude comments in person, are quick to criticize a woman’s appearance, behavior, decisions, opinions, and pretty much anything else they can think of, and no matter who you are, that type of “feedback” takes a toll on one’s mental health and can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and even self-harm.
To combat the tall poppy syndrome, creating a culture of support and positivity is crucial. Colleagues and superiors should recognize and reward women for their hard work and dedication rather than downplaying their successes or criticizing them for being too ambitious.
Despite the negative impact of tall poppy syndrome, it is essential to remember that women are not to blame. Women should be celebrated for their successes and achievements and recognized for their accomplishments. And ALL successful women should be seen as an inspiration and a source of motivation for others to strive for excellence.
And never forget … She’s not bossy … She’s a leader.
Jennifer Krebs-Ellis is president & CEO of Cosmetic Specialty Labs, Inc, former Mayor of Medicine Park and serves as a commissioner on the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.