We need more women like Jamie Lee Curtis in this world. Her now famous reaction to her co-star, Michelle Yeoh’s, Golden Globe win for best performance by an actress in a motion picture, is exactly how we should all be celebrating the successes of our female colleagues. We need to trumpet their achievements like they are our own.
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Women have extra challenges to overcome to be successful in their careers. The 2023 Tallest Poppy Study was recently released and the findings highlight that successful women need to be resilient because they face aggressions in the workplace that can result in them being brought down.
Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) refers to when successful women are being bullied and challenged on their achievements, and made to feel like they are taking up too much space. The results of the Tall Poppy Study are startling, and in a most troubling and disappointing way:
- The more accomplished an individual is, the more likely she is to face aggressions, not only from those in positions of seniority, but also from her peers.
- 86.8% of respondents indicated that they have been the target of hostility, or have been penalized and/or ostracized because of their success. Stage of career, industry, and seniority level did not matter.
- The ways in which respondents were penalized at work included: bullying, cyber-bullying, dismissal and downplaying of achievement, belittling, being ignored, silenced or undermined, others taking credit for work, accusations of acting selfish or feeling superior, disparaging comments including gossip, and microaggressions.
- The aggressors were identified as across all levels of seniority, from co-workers to clients to leaders in the organization. The majority were identified as being men, but there were women in every category also cutting other women down.
- As a result of suffering this treatment, 85.6% of respondents indicated that their stress had increased, 73.8% indicated it had a negative impact on their mental health, and 66.2% cited lower self-confidence. They also reported feelings of isolation and burnout, engaging in negative self-talk, and the lack of desire to share or celebrate success and accomplishments.
- TPS impacts organizations and not just the individual: 75% said that being “cut down” by others impacted their productivity at work. This presented as being disengaged at meetings and from work, a lack of trust, a heightened sense of imposter syndrome, and a reduced desire to promote oneself.
- Even if a woman hasn’t had to deal with TPS, she has likely witnessed it.
The results of the Tall Poppy Study show why we need more women like Jamie Lee Curtis. Research conducted by Brian Uzzi, Yang Yang and Nitesh V. Chawla showed that women benefit from a close inner circle of female contacts to break into the executive leadership club. The researchers found that men benefit being connected to multiple “hubs” - to people who have a lot of contacts across different groups. Women benefited from connection in multiple hubs as well, but to secure the executive positions with the highest levels of authority and compensation, they also had to have a small inner network of close female contacts, despite having similar qualifications to men, including education and work experience. Women benefited from this close inner circle as a means to help overcome cultural and political hurdles in securing executive positions. These women shared private information like an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, which strengthened their circle’s job search, interviewing and negotiation strategies. See Harvard Business Review, Research: Men and Women Need Different Kinds of Networks to Succeed, by Brian Uzzi, February 25, 2019.
We need to be better at amplifying other women. At throwing our arms up and cheering when they succeed. Just like Jamie. Celebrating another women’s success shows that you are confident enough in your own abilities to make sure that the success of another woman is being recognized. And we need to do it even if it comes with a price. Appallingly, senior-level women who champion junior women in their organization are more likely to get negative performance reviews.
I love this quote: “A woman alone has power; collectively we have impact.” It was said by Shelley Zalis in her Forbes article, Power of the Pack: Women Who Support Women Are More Successful. One of the ways to change the results of the Tall Poppy Study is to cheer for each other. Instead of there being negative consequences in championing another woman, it will be lauded. It will be expected, as it should be.
On International Women’s Day, a day about celebrating women, we should all resolve to be a little more like Jamie.
 The study had 4,710 respondents from 103 countries.
 Harvard Business Review. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Women Supporting Each Other at Work. Anne Welsh McNulty. September 3, 2018.