• Friday, March 01, 2024
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Been “Cut Down” because of your success?

Finding your path to clarity, purpose, and success in turbulent times

Ambitious women face unique challenges in the workplace that often stem from societal expectations, gender stereotypes, and the lack of female representation in leadership positions. Women of Influence, based out of Toronto and a leading global organization committed to advancing gender equity in the workplace, released groundbreaking findings from The Tallest Poppy 2023 study. Tall Poppy Syndrome occurs when people are attacked, resented, disliked, criticized, or cut down because of their achievements and/or success. The study found that almost 90 per cent of respondents from thousands of working women from all demographics and professions in 103 countries experienced this in the workplace. The study determined how their mental health, well-being, engagement, and performance is affected by interactions with their clients, colleagues, and leaders surrounding their success and accomplishments. The Tallest Poppy reveals that high-performing women and ambitious women who are successful are being bullied and belittled, challenged on their successes, and made to feel as though it’s not their place to take up so much space.

“It was a small insult, but it was cool and calculated and it chopped ever-so-slightly at the stem that held the tall red poppy up.”

Dr. Rumeet Billan, CEO, Women of Influence+ and author of the study reveals the negative effects of being cut down because of your achievements, how the cutting is being done, who is most likely to do the cutting, and legitimizes the experiences of women who have experienced this throughout their careers.”


Tall Poppy Syndrome is detrimental to your self-confidence and well-being. The experience increases your stress, negatively impacts your mental health, and lowers your self-confidence and self-esteem. You feel isolated with burnout with a lack of desire to share or celebrate your success. Do you say, “Oh, it was nothing.” when really it was quite something! Of those who responded to the survey:

• 70 per cent looked for a new role/job.
• 50 per cent left their previous role/job.
• 75 per cent said it impacted their productivity.
• Almost 80 per cent created a culture of distrust.
An organization’s goal should be to increase productivity and positively impact their bottom line. They and should not want this toxic culture in their workplaces.


Rumor has it that it is women holding the shears to cut down other women. This study’s respondents thought so! However, the study found that men in leadership positions were more likely to penalize or undermine women due to their success. Women, on the other hand, were more likely to cut down peers or colleagues. Below are some of the cutting ways of those holding the blade. I had flashbacks recognizing my experience with “all” of them when in corporate. It has a name! It was exhausting to be in such experiences. But I got through it by knowing I deserved better and “artfully” speaking up to receive better.

Read also: Nigeria ranks 17th on The Economist’s 2023 crony-capitalism index

• Downplayed achievements.
• Left out or ignored in meetings and discussions.
• Undermined to inhibit success.
• Dismissed achievements.
• Credit stolen of others work.
• Belittled.
• Silenced.
• Disparaging comments.
• Microaggressions.


Because of women’s experience with Tall Poppy Syndrome, we should be at the forefront of leading the charge to be, see, and act on the change we know is required. And saying, “I don’t know.” is not the answer and never is. Here are some recommended solutions:

• Raise awareness and accept that it is real, unacceptable, and why.
• Be and hold people accountable for toxic actions.
• Create and demonstrate a culture of trust and transparency ensuring equitable standards with zero tolerance.
• Invest in self and organizational training, retention, and sponsorship not just mentorship.

“Let’s Put Away the Scissors”

The impact of ambition on women in the workplace is complex and multi-faceted. It is often viewed differently with unique challenges and obstacles than men when achieving their professional goals. However, ambitious women have been breaking down barriers and stereotypes, paving the way for future generations of women. Organizations have also been making efforts to foster a more inclusive and equitable workplace, recognizing the value that diverse teams bring to the table. With continued efforts and support, ambitious women can continue to thrive and achieve their professional goals, and ultimately, help to create a more equitable and just society. The change begins with you. Ensure you are not the one holding the blade on anyone! Be the change and the courage you want to see. You do not have to stay stuck in burn out, stress, and being fed up. Speak up for yourself! You desire more and deserve better! Act based on this knowing!