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5 Hidden Challenges Women Face at Work

Do you as a woman feel like you keep hitting invisible barriers in your career? It’s highly likely you’ve hit at least 1 of these 5 challenges in the workplace. 


5 hidden challenges women face at work

1. Tall Poppy Syndrome: Your success makes you a target

 

Tall Poppy Syndrome is when your success and achievements make you a target at work and people want to cut you down to size because they are either jealous, sexist or because of their own insecurities. 


I know it sounds like a made up thing but it’s a real issue in workplaces - 86% of women experience it according to Women of influence.

This syndrome is particularly detrimental as it creates an environment where women don’t feel valued and respected which in turn discourages women from showcasing their talents and achievements at work.


So how do you know it’s happening?

When you find yourself being continuously criticised, excluded, getting sly comments and your colleagues or boss downplaying your achievements WHERE YOU FEEL BAD ABOUT YOURSELF.


This type of behaviour IS NOT always so visible to others BUT it sends a clear message that achievements, especially by women, can lead to unfair treatment rather than celebration.


The film 'Legally Blonde' and the TV series 'Silicon Valley' vividly highlights Tall Poppy Syndrome, showcasing how standout success often attracts criticism and envy.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

The impact of Tall Poppy Syndrome on businesses?

The impact is bigger than you can imagine, 67% of women who experience Tall poppy Syndrome decide to leave their jobs. And  that's how businesses lose their best. It’s bad for morale, even worse for the bottom line. 


Top tips - how to navigate Tall Poppy syndrome 

  1. Check, is it Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS)? I’d recommend you examine the comment you received and see if it’s constructive or destructive.

  • It’s Constructive when it  helps you to grow. 

  • It’s destructive when it's a put down i.e shitty unkind comments.

  • It's a bit of both? It’s meant to be a put down but there is something constructive in there.

  1. Don’t say silent: Get a second opinion and if it TPS assess if it’s a one off or continual thing. If this a regular occurrence then make sure you speak up.

  2. Don’t take it personal: Tall Poppy Syndrome is about them, not you. It's external to you, they are battling with their own insecurities. Don’t apologise for your growth.

  3. Protect your growth and set boundaries: You're not an emotional punch bag. Don’t feel guilty. Some people don’t understand the gravity of their comments and actions. Focus on what helps you grow. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and encourage your growth and success in the workplace.


2. Queen Bee Syndrome: Leadership at a Price


The Queen Bee Syndrome is when women in a position of power don't allow ambitious women to succeed in the workplace. 


This usually occurs in male-dominated or competitive  environments where the Queen Bee may adopt competitive behaviours to preserve her unique status, often at the expense of other women. This can create a hostile environment for new female leaders.

The film 'Devil Wears Prada' and 'Mean Girls' vividly illustrate Queen Bee Syndrome, showcasing showcasing how how competitive environments, particularly among women, can lead to power struggles, manipulation, and social hierarchies that foster hostility and rivalry.
Queen Bee Syndrome

Top tips - how to navigate Queen Bee’s 


  • Know the difference between a Tough Boss and a Queen Bee? A Queen Bee just tries to bring you down and a tough boss helps you get better at your job.


  • Have compassion and understand her why: she’s most likely acting out of insecurity. 


  • Have a conversation, establish what your expectations are from each other, we all make assumptions. Understand each person's point of view.


  • Ally, no enemy: Prove to the Queen Bee you're on her team, not her rival.  They are in charge.


  • If things worsen, consider escalating the issue to HR.


3. Maternal Wall Bias: The Motherhood Penalty


Maternal wall bias refers to the discrimination that mothers (and sometimes expectant mothers) face in the workplace. This can include assumptions that they are less committed to their jobs, biases against them when considering promotions or new opportunities, and generally being treated differently due to their status as parents. This form of bias is a significant barrier to gender equality in the workplace, affecting career progression, compensation, and job security for many women.


The film 'I don't know how she does it' and the TV series 'Working Moms' highlight Maternal Wall Bias, showing how working mothers overcome stereotypes and career barriers related to their family roles.
Materna; Wall Bias


Top tips - how to navigate the Maternal Wall Bias


  1. Know your rights: Learn about your rights related to maternity leave and protection against discrimination. This knowledge can help you stand up for yourself.

  2. Keep track of your successes: Write down what you accomplish at work. This is useful during evaluations to show how valuable you are, even if your schedule has changed.

  3. Keep Learning: Continue to take opportunities to learn new skills. This shows you're still focused on your career.

  4. Push for Better Policies: If you can, help make changes in your workplace that support working parents, like better leave policies or childcare options.

  5. Be Clear with Your Boss: Be honest about what you can do during your work hours. This helps set realistic expectations and ensures you're judged fairly.


4. Double Bind 


The double bind is where women are criticised for being too soft if they show empathy, yet labelled too harsh if they assert themselves. This predicament puts women in a catch-22 situation (Literally a no-win situation) which can hinder their effectiveness and opportunities for career progression at work.  


Double Bind

Top tips - how to navigate the Double Bind


  1. Find your own leadership style: Embrace a leadership style that feels authentic to you, rather than conforming strictly to traditional masculine or feminine norms. This will help you remain true to yourself and can break down outdated stereotypes. 


  1. Communicate assertively & always be fair: Practise clear and assertive communication that conveys your ideas and boundaries effectively. This balances professionalism and assertiveness without tipping into perceived aggressiveness.


  1. Find the right balance of competence and likability: This is tough, women leaders often face the dilemma of being seen as competent or likeable, but rarely both.


  1. Have allies and mentors: who understand the double bind and can provide support, guidance, and advocacy within the organisation. Having a support network can also help amplify your voice and contributions.


5. Invisibility Syndrome: Overlooked and Undervalued


Invisibility syndrome occurs when a female employee feels unseen or unrecognised in the workplace. This is also quite a prominent challenge for women over 50 and can lead to a lack of recognition and career progression opportunities.


Invisibility Syndrome


Top tips - how to navigate the invisibility syndrome 


  1. Speak up in meetings: Make it a point to voice your opinions and ideas in meetings. It does help to write some notes in advance if it helps you feel more confident about speaking up. This visibility can remind others of your contributions and presence.

  2. Document your achievements: Keep a record of your accomplishments and the positive feedback you receive. This can be used during performance reviews and discussions with your manager to highlight your contributions.

  3. Seek high-visibility projects: Volunteer for projects or roles that are highly visible within the organisation. Being part of important initiatives can increase your visibility and demonstrate your capabilities outside your core team.

  4. Build strategic relationships: Develop relationships with influential people in your organisation, such as mentors, sponsors, or members of senior management. Having advocates who recognize your value can help raise your profile and ensure your contributions are noticed.


Conclusion


The challenges women face in the workplace are multifaceted and deeply ingrained in societal and organisational structures. However, by recognising these challenges and employing strategies to overcome them, women can navigate their careers with confidence and success. Empowering women in the workplace not only benefits the individuals but enriches the organisations and societies they are part of. 


Let's commit to breaking down barriers and building a more inclusive and equitable working world.


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