How Tall Poppy Syndrome Affects Women in Business

Tall poppy syndrome.  The bain of Australian business women.  Why?  Because in our culture of self deprecation, of humility, society struggles to accept us for who we really are as women.  The part that disappoints me the most is when women see other women as competition, as being ‘too much’.  It is something that is ingrained in us from childhood.  Tall poppy syndrome needs to be nipped in the bud so that the true potential of Australian business leaders can be experienced.

How Tall Poppy Syndrome Affects Business Women

  • What causes Tall Poppy Syndrome?
  • What does being a Tall Poppy mean in business?
  • How to deal with Tall Poppy Syndrome as a female leader
  • How to fix Tall Poppy Syndrome in our culture?

What causes Tall Poppy Syndrome?

The system, culture, education, they all carry an unconscious bias.  I remember when I was a little girl being told to stop trying to keep up with the boys.  Being a ‘tomboy’ was a bad thing.  And never, ever sing your own praises.  But if we don’t ladies, who will.

Why is it alright for men to be bold, to spruik about their victories (however shallow) and yet we are trained to shy away from the limelight, from being proud, and to essentially be less than in the eyes of the world.

Australia is an amazing place to live.  I love it here.  But I fell that tall poppy syndrome is a black mark in our society.  

I remember when we had Presentation Night for Netball.  This was back in the day when only three people on the team were recognised.  It was so exciting to sit and wait to see if your name was called.  Yes it was hard to take when it wasn’t.  But isn’t that a part of learning resillience?

One of the main reasons that people view female business owners as a threat or competition is because of tall poppy syndrome. This syndrome deploys a sense of intimidation or fear when women become successful. Tall poppy syndrome bears its teeth by shaming us, ridiculing and ostracizing.  It can hinder our ability to achieve even greater heights, and can even stop us from succeeding altogether.

TPS is an evil control mechanism that we have the power to break.

What does being a Tall Poppy mean in business?

Here lies the quandary. To develop know, like and trust in business, you need to be authentic, be personable, and be publicly edified for how good you are.  Imagine how hard that is in a nation where self celebrity is seen as being ‘full of yourself’.  ‘Tooting your own horn’ is frowned upon.  So where does that leave you when trying to grow a successful enterprise.

Being a Tall Poppy means that you have surpassed your peers or the expectations of society. on a larger scale.  

But isn’t that a good thing?

I think it is.  But not everyone thinks the same way.  One person doing well shines a light on our own insecurities and inadequacies.  In a world where equality is falling miserably to a side of humanity where it is doing more harm than good, our endeavours to make things fair for everyone only serve to amplify the success of our unicorns.  

Instead of encouraging people to be their best, to push themselves further, tall poppy syndrome keeps people in a pack.  Subdued.  This protects the weak but stifles the strong.

Nothing like being the elephant in the room.  

Our view of competition is fierce when it comes to sport.  But it should be viewed differently in business.  Tall poppy syndrome has a way of keeping us separate and small.  Pitted against each other.  

I believe in the power of collaboration.  Tall poppy syndrome does not align with collaboration.   In business we are often lead to believe in scarcity.  I understand the theory of scarcity in economics.  Scarcity is a powerful tool for driving up prices.  

However, in business scarcity can lead to irrational decision making.  It can lead to an overprotective and closed mindset.  When we are afraid we start to fight and unfortunately I see that often manifest as tearing someone else down.

Tall poppy syndrome in business is not a positive experience for anyone.  It detracts from true potential and abundance.  It is time for women to take a hold of tall poppy syndrome and quash it for good.  Refuse to play the game.

TPS can stop you from taking risks and excelling.  It is a shame because we could be missing out on you.  Missing out on what you have to offer the world.  It is a shame because you are missing out.  Missing out on reaching your potential on going beyond what you thought possible for yourself.

Don't Underestimate the Power of Conversation

Grab a coffee and let’s talk business

women drinking coffee on zoom

How to deal with Tall Poppy Syndrome as a female leader

The first thing you need to focus on here is the word ‘leader’.  What does that mean to you?


For me being a leader means inspiring others to be their best.  I believe if this were true for all leaders then there would be no tall poppy syndrome because it goes against the very definition of the word leader for me.


I have always encouraged people to explore their talents.  That is because I believe we all have talent.  As a leader it is important to realise that some talents are more useful than others at any given time.  Comparatives have no place here.  You cannot measure the worth of an apple against an orange on a global scale, and yet that is exactly what we do.  We prize one over the other.


As a female leader it is important to find ways to let everyone have their unicorn moment.  As Dr Billan found, it is mostly women who are subject to tall poppy syndrome, so as women we should create a culture is intolerant to it.


How to fix Tall Poppy Syndrome in our culture

Tall poppy syndrome is about culture.  When it is present in a culture and you are the leader, it is your job to change the culture.  That means showing everyone how to behave inspirationally.  To encourage and foster success.  To celebrate it unashamedly.  Make space for congratulations.  Not just as a function but as a feeling.  

Success is everyone’s to enjoy.  

As a female leader it can be challenging to face a culture that frown upon us sharing success, enjoying it, even achieving it.  This is where success must be changed from being seen as a selfish act to a selfless one. 

Dr Rumeet Billan’s study The Tallest Poppy identifies these ways to combat Tall Poppy Syndrome.

  •                                           Training and Development
  •                                           Lead by Example
  •                                           If You See Something, Say Something
There are fascinating insights in this study including the impact on confidence, sleeplessness, rejection, and even mental breakdown.  I encourage you to learn more about tall poppy syndrome so you can recognise it and eradicate it.

I am going to leave you with the lyrics to a song by Toddrick Hall called Black & White

they relate here too I think.

They said
Leap, but not too high
Shine, but not too bright
Think the impossible
As long as it’s in black and white
 So now it is your turn.  Are you experiencing or witnessing TPS?  Will you do something about it?


Turn your thoughts into actions with a 30 minute Power Up session.

zoom call between two women
upset woman huddling on the ground

2 thoughts on “How Tall Poppy Syndrome Affects Women in Business”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *