A recent study led by Dr. Rumeet Billan in partnership with Women of Influence, Thomson Reuters, Canadian HR Reporter and Viewpoint Leadership has explored tall poppy syndrome and its impact on Canadian women in the workplace, with results that are applicable to the U.S. nonprofit sector.
The phrase tall poppy syndrome refers to the farming practice that ensures all flowering poppies grow together. Farmers may trim their poppy fields so that taller flowers are cut to maintain a uniform field. When applied to people, the term tall poppy syndrome refers to the practice of cutting down those experiencing success, through gossip, sabotaging work, or implying a reason other than merit for success.
The study, called The Tallest Poppy, found that over 87 percent of women indicated that their achievements at work were undermined by colleagues or superiors, with more than 81 percent saying they had experienced hostility or been penalized because of their success. Many of those surveyed agreed that their workplace had become toxic due to the behavior of co-workers.
Those responding to the study’s survey also reported a high level of distrust when it came to their coworkers, with nearly 70 percent reporting a lack of trust, and nearly 60 percent feeling disengaged from their work as a result of poppy cutting behavior.
Here are some more of the key findings of the report:
- Men and women were nearly even in being identified as the culprit of undermining others’ successes at 28 percent and 31 percent respectively. The remainder of those surveyed (41 percent) stated that they felt penalized for their accomplishments by both genders.
- Victims of this phenomenon also indicated that their discriminators came from many areas of the workplace. Respondents listed males in the C-Suite (including CEOs), female peers/colleagues and managers as the leading offenders in cutting down their successes.
- 44 percent felt they had been undermined by friends.
- More than four in 10 respondents witnessed a co-worker being undermined and didn’t step in, and approximately one in 10 admitted to participating.
- 70 percent indicated that penalties for their achievements were both verbal and non-verbal, and a mix of direct and indirect punishments. Many also felt that they had been blocked from opportunities and promotions within the workplace as a form of punishment.
- At the root of Tall Poppy Syndrome, most felt that jealousy (83 percent), sexism/gender stereotypes (69 percent) and lack of confidence (60 percent) were the key drivers in causing offenders to lash out against tall poppies.
- 65 percent reported issues with self-confidence and self-esteem, and 46 percent developed negative self-talk.
- 60 percent felt the need to downplay their own achievements to avoid judgment and punishment from others.
- Respondents also listed anxiety and depression as side effects of the treatment they had experienced within their career – 49 percent of tall poppies felt that their experiences impacted their desire to apply for a promotion.
- 70 percent reported that being undermined impacted their productivity.
- A lack of trust among co-workers (69 percent), disengagement from work (59 percent) and impostor syndrome (57 percent) were also cited.
- This culture of distrust leads many high achievers to look for opportunities elsewhere (59 percent), causing many organizations to lose top talent.
To read the research in full, click here.