Tall Poppy Syndrome: Navigating Challenges to Lift Us All

A colorful image of a field of red poppies on a white background, with the text

Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS), a phenomenon that often goes unnoticed, has significant implications for women leaders in government organizations. Let's explore what TPS is, how it impacts ambitious women, and strategies to overcome it.

What is Tall Poppy Syndrome?

Tall Poppy Syndrome occurs when individuals are attacked, resented, criticized, or cut down due to their achievements and success. The metaphorical “tall poppy” represents someone who stands out from the crowd, excels, and reaches new heights. Unfortunately, instead of celebrating their accomplishments, society often seeks to diminish them.

The Silent Systemic Syndrome

Dr. Rumeet Billan, an award-winning entrepreneur and researcher, has led groundbreaking studies on TPS. Her project, The Tallest Poppy, sheds light on the consequences of this silent systemic syndrome, particularly its impact on women in the workplace worldwide1. Let’s delve into how TPS affects women leaders in government organizations:

Jealousy and Resentment

Women who ascend to leadership positions often face resentment from colleagues. Their achievements become a source of envy, leading to subtle undermining behaviors. When a woman stands out, others may perceive her as a threat, triggering TPS. It’s like they’re saying, “Hey, you’re making us look bad! Tone it down, Queen Bee!"

Sexism and Stereotypes

Gender biases persist in workplaces, especially in male-dominated fields like government. Women leaders encounter stereotypes that question their competence, emotional stability, and decision-making abilities. TPS amplifies these biases, making it harder for women to thrive. It’s as if society collectively whispers, “She’s too assertive. Shouldn’t she be knitting a sweater somewhere?” 

Barriers to Advancement

TPS discourages women from pursuing promotions or seeking higher positions. Fear of being cut down prevents them from reaching their full potential. As a result, women leaders may hesitate to take risks or advocate for themselves. It’s like climbing a ladder while someone below keeps trimming the rungs. 

Mental Health Impact

The toll of TPS on mental health cannot be overstated. Dr. Billan’s research reveals that 85.6% of respondents experienced increased stress, while 73.8% reported poor mental health due to TPS2. The constant battle against societal expectations takes a toll on well-being.

Strategies to Combat TPS

Awareness and Education

Government organizations must raise awareness about TPS. Training programs should address biases, stereotypes, and the importance of celebrating success rather than cutting down tall poppies.

Mentorship and Sponsorship

Establish mentorship programs that connect women leaders with experienced mentors. Sponsors can advocate for their advancement, shielding them from TPS. Encouraging women to support one another is crucial.

Inclusive Leadership

Government leaders should model inclusive behavior. By promoting diversity and recognizing achievements, they create an environment where tall poppies thrive. Inclusion fosters resilience against TPS.

Policy Changes

Organizations can implement policies that protect women from TPS. Transparent promotion processes, zero tolerance for undermining behavior, and regular mental health check-ins are essential. Maybe it’s time for the “No Poppy Left Behind Act”!


As women continue to break barriers in government organizations, addressing TPS becomes imperative. Let’s celebrate their achievements, nurture their growth, and collectively dismantle the syndrome that stifles progress. Together, we can create a workplace where tall poppies flourish and inspire future generations.

Remember: A field of tall poppies is a sign of success, not a threat.


  1. The Tallest Poppy - Women of Influence
  2. What is Tall Poppy Syndrome? How does it impact women? - North Shore News