It’s because the poppy has the annoying habit of always blooming above the surrounding vegetation… (Photo: Lucas van Oort for Unsplash)
DAMNED JOB! is a section where Olivier Schmouker answers your toughest questions [et les plus pertinentes] on the modern business world… and, of course, its quirks. An appointment to read tuesdays and the thursdays. Do you want to participate? Send us your question at email@example.com
Q. – “I have a good career, because I accumulate successes. But now, I have the clear impression that it irritates the others more than it delights them, to the point that some people gossip behind my back. I wonder if it’s not mainly because I’m a woman…” – Mylene
A. — Dear Mylène, I have a question for you: have you ever heard of tall poppy syndrome (GSC)? I imagine not, so let me explain it to you, it should interest you…
CMS occurs when someone is envied, criticized and unloved because of their success, both in private life and at work. A priori, one could say that this phenomenon can affect anyone, but in truth women seem to be the most affected. A 2018 study in Canada by Rumeet Billan, now CEO of Women of Influence+, found that 87% of female workers feel their career achievements are undermined, and 81% of they say they have already been victims of hostility and sanctions because of their success. In other words, standing out comes at a high price when you’re a woman.
The image of the large poppy comes precisely from there. This flower is known for having a stem always higher than the surrounding vegetation, so much so that it suffers from the reflex of many gardeners which is to equalize the height of the plants: the stem is cut, and its beautiful red flower falls to the ground.
Casually, it seems that we all have this reflex: as soon as something goes out of the norm, we take offense to it, and if we could, we would cut this “flower” higher than the others . What some do at work, indirectly, through gossip, obstruction and sabotage. And this, for a thousand and one bad reasons: jealousy, inferiority complex, feeling of insecurity, contempt, etc.
The principle is simple. If people are normal, they get social recognition. On the other hand, if they leave it, they undergo the reflex of the group which is to bring the lost sheep back into the herd, for its good as for that of the group. This is the classic mechanism of social conformity.
On this subject, a point deserves to be underlined: the study of Rumeet Billan indicates that those who have the most tendency to act as a “sheepdog” with regard to the “stray sheep” are… women. Yes, it is other women who, most of the time, begin to criticize and point out female colleagues who, according to them, are “too successful”.
Now, the question that arises is whether there is a way to fight against the tall poppy syndrome. Two avenues deserve to be explored in this respect. One is to act on the group, and the other, on oneself.
As we have seen, the group has the reflex to reject what is different from it. This rejection is expressed by sly spades or hurtful behavior by some towards the woman who flies from success to success. Hence the idea of getting the group to show more tolerance in the face of difference, to be more benevolent towards each other.
How, exactly? For example, the leader can reinforce the team’s sense of psychological safety, by giving priority to collective performance over individual performance, by making each blunder an opportunity to learn, or by practicing assertiveness. . Another example: the leader can multiply the informal occasions to celebrate the uniqueness of each, by organizing a potluck where each one makes taste a culinary specialty of his region or his country, or by proposing a thematic 5 @ 7 where each one makes discover others his favorite pastime.
This will aim to broaden everyone’s open-mindedness, to help everyone understand that difference is not a danger, but rather an asset. And therefore, to better welcome success when it crowns one of the team members.
That’s not all, Mylène. It is also important to work on yourself so that others do not systematically dislike you because of your successes. At least that’s what Rumeet Billan believes: “It’s important to think about the validation we constantly seek, the value we place on the opinion others have of us,” she writes in an article. apart from his study. As for me, I no longer seek to be congratulated, or even to be recognized by my peers, because I know that this triggers reflexes of rejection. Like what, humility is a virtue that could not be more precious these days.
So. The tall poppy syndrome is indeed a reality for most women who find success in the workplace. It results in sticks in the wheels as well as a pressure as underhanded as it is constant to fit into the mould. In short, it can turn professional life into real hell. Unless, of course, everyone learns to live with the success of others, that is to say, to no longer act as a “poppy cutter”, but as a benevolent gardener.
By the way, the writer Germaine de Staël said in Of Germany“Intelligence is found in the ability to recognize the similarities among different things, and the differences between similar things.”
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