Most women feel undermined in the workplace: report

Men and women were nearly even in being identified as the culprit of cutting down others

Mario ToneguzziA new survey indicates that 87 per cent of women feel they are being undermined within the workplace.

The Tallest Poppy, a report supported by Women of Influence, Thomson Reuters, Canadian HR Reporter and Viewpoint Leadership, surveyed 1,500 respondents.

The organizations said Tall Poppy Syndrome refers to a person (the poppy) who is cut down due to their success or recent achievement. The poppy may be torn down by any number of colleagues within the workplace, and even their family and friends, causing a deep impact on the individual, as well as the organization’s culture and performance, they said.

“Despite many advancements for women in the workplace, we routinely hear first-hand accounts of the challenges many bright, talented women face each day,” said Stephania Varalli, co-CEO of Women of Influence.

“Through our courses, events and content, Women of Influence works to break down barriers for women in the workplace, so taking a closer look at Tall Poppy Syndrome was an eye-opening study. It shows just how much work remains.”

Here are some of the key findings of the report:

  • Men and women were nearly even in being identified as the culprit of cutting down others’ successes at 27.6 per cent and 31 per cent respectively. The remainder of those surveyed (41.2 per cent) 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.
  • 43.9 per cent felt they had been cut down by their friends.
  • More than four in 10 respondents witnessed a co-worker being cut down and didn’t step in, and approximately one in 10 admitted to participating.
  • 70.3 per cent 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 (83.2 per cent), sexism/gender stereotypes (68.6 per cent) and lack of confidence (59.8 per cent) were the key drivers in causing offenders to lash out against tall poppies.
  • 64.7 per cent reported issues with self-confidence and self-esteem, and 46.2 per cent developed negative self-talk.
  • 60.3 per cent 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 – 48.9 per cent of tall poppies felt that their experiences impacted their desire to apply for a promotion.
  • 69.5 per cent reported that being cut down impacted their productivity.
  • A lack of trust among co-workers (69.2 per cent), disengagement from work (59.2 per cent) and imposter syndrome (56.7 per cent) were also cited.
  • This culture of distrust leads many high achievers to look for opportunities elsewhere (59.1 per cent), causing many organizations to lose top talent.

“Women identified training and development and leading by example as the top strategies to enable high achieving women to flourish in their careers,” said Varalli.

“Sponsorship and mentorship programs were indicated as a way to combat TPS and help women navigate the workplace, so we are hopeful that organizations like ours will continue to help women reach their full potential unopposed.”

Mario Toneguzzi is a veteran Calgary-based journalist who worked for 35 years for the Calgary Herald, including 12 years as a senior business writer.

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