The Tiara Syndrome: Something that will never happen unless you ask for it

A term coined by Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb, the founders of Negotiating Women, Inc, the Tiara Syndrome or the Tiara Effect is used to describe how many women approach salary and raise negotiations.

As Carol Frohlinger says, “Women expect that if they keep doing their job well someone will notice them and place a tiara on their head. That never happens.”

The fact is, most women don’t negotiate. That tiara is the recognition in the form of increased salary or pay. Women believe that they will be recognised for their value and automatically be paid what they are worth but the reality is, you have to ask for what you want. And if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

In her bestselling book, Lean-In, Sheryl Sandberg says, “Women are also more reluctant to apply for promotions even when deserved, often believing that good job performance will naturally lead to rewards.”

Many women feel that working hard and doing a good job will be enough and the reality is that women are often extremely conscientious at delivering against their objectives. Just as at school where girls’ conscientiousness often leads to higher academic results than achieved by boys, many women believe that this same strategy will lead to success at work. However, sometimes this very diligence gets in the way of fast-tracking their careers. Many women are so so focused on doing the operational aspects of their job well that they don’t have time to step back and focus on strategic priorities and they often feel they do not have space in their busy working weeks to fit in networking which is seen as an unnecessary, and often uncomfortable, use of their precious time. In the same vein, they do not seek mentors to guide them or get the support of sponsors to give them the invaluable exposure and opportunities needed to step up to senior leadership positions.

Academic psychologist Cordelia Fine says such behaviour stems from socialisation, not innate differences between the sexes. And, of course, some men are sufferers, just as many women aren’t. But how do those who have been schooled not to boast learn to champion their cause and get over tiara syndrome?

A 2003 study of thirty-eight business students conducted University of California at Irvine discovered that 85% of the men believed that it was up to them to make sure their company paid them what they were worth. Only 17% of the women in the study believed this to be the case. The remaining 15% of the men and 83% of women assumed their worth would be determined by what their company paid them. The Tiara Syndrome only adds to the pay disparity between men and women. If we don’t ask for more pay based on our contributions, the answer is always no.

As women, we don’t negotiate. Most of us don’t negotiate our first job offer, which has been calculated to equal $500,000 over the length of her career. And all because we don’t speak up for ourselves and our worth.

So why do we women avoid negotiating? This is to a large extent because of the social conditioning females are brought up in where we are always told to be polite and quiet. Asking for money seems, greedy and rude and it is also uncomfortable. Frohlinger advises women to keep a work journal by month detailing the projects and accomplishments achieved, client kudos, amounts in new business created, or savings generated. This compelling evidence of their value to the company can be persuasively presented during a salary negotiation. Even if one gets an automatic raise annually, this substantiation of the corporate value could pay off in a larger increase. If you are stepping into a new role or moving to a new organization, don’t settle for the first offer.

Tory Johnson, the CEO of Women for Hire and Good Morning America’s career expert recommends the following for negotiating that initial offer. Start positive and get the whole compensation package in writing if it has been verbal so far. Be firm. If you have been offered a package lower than your expectations, then let them know politely with an emphasis on the skills and experience you bring to the role and ask them how much wriggle room is available. Every organisation will have a wriggle room, especially for someone they deem the best fit. Follow up especially if the hiring manager is firm on their offer. Work towards reaching an agreement, on paper, for a salary negotiation or review within a pre-determined period. Also try and negotiate on non-money aspects like vacation time, flexible working arrangements, medical benefits, etc.

What are the blocks that don’t allow extremely able women from progressing? These include insufficient impact and presence and lack of a strong personal brand, a lowered productivity and overwhelm through being pulled in too many directions at once as well as poor work-life balance, a belief that doing a good job will be enough and not seeking sponsors, discomfort with networking both internally and externally, being insufficiently strategic and too stuck in the detail, a lack of strategic career planning and reduced confidence and lack of self-belief as a leader.

If you suffer from this syndrome, here’s what you can do to overcome it:

Own your career, acknowledge that you suffer from the syndrome and come up with an action plan. If you don’t like talking about it, use technology instead. Copy your boss into relevant emails and share them on your professional social media accounts. Keep a career journal to keep a record of your accomplishments. This is great for building evidence required for negotiations, it can be confidence boosting and be useful for CVs, appraisals, and other career development opportunities. Stop comparing yourself to others and plan for and maximise the formal opportunities for negotiation, whether for a pay rise or a promotion. Build your brand and internal network. Your brand also includes managing your energetic presence, personal image and communication, including body language. Harness Your Potential which includes identifying and capitalising on strengths as well as being clear about which weaker areas are mission-critical and maximising time and energy. Creating a balance between work and other aspects of life is also vital for sustainable career success. Cultivate supportive relationships within your current work setting as well as the wider professional network, including sponsors and mentors. It is important to be able to initiate these relationships, enhance your influence and also handle difficult relationships. Focus on strategy and volunteer for strategic or extra credit projects so that you can develop an idea of the big picture. Thinking like a leader is necessary to develop a leadership mindset and this includes handling the little voice of doubt that we all have in our heads and also learning to let go of some of what we have excelled at to take on even higher level leadership tasks.

It’s naive to think that delivering excellent results is all that it takes to succeed in the workplace. The playing field is not yet equal for women; the fact is that women have to negotiate for things their male colleagues can often take for granted. In addition to the obvious issue regarding compensation, women should negotiate for high visibility assignments, the resources they need to get the job done, support from those senior in the organization and buy-in from colleagues. They should also negotiate in their personal lives for the things that will enable them to be successful in the workplace. Effective negotiation is a prerequisite to “leaning in”. As Sheryl Sandberg says, “Do not wait for power to be offered. Like that tiara, it might never materialise.” So to all the women reading this post, if you have the Tiara Syndrome, shrug it off and know that you too are worth it!

Why Girls do better in school, but Boys excel in the workplace?


This is a scene common across schools, colleges and universities around the world. A girl is most likely the topper of her cohort and more girls occupy the top positions than boys. Logical expectation would be that these same women who are so successful in school, would continue their successful run when they enter the workforce. But this does not really happen. You don’t see many women in the higher positions at work, there, it is the men who hold a staggering 95 percent of the top positions in the largest public companies.

I have always wondered why this happens. What happens to women that they are not able to replicate the success they have in school at work. Some weeks back, I happened to read an article in the newspaper, authored by Lisa Damour, a practising clinical psychologist and author of the forthcoming book, ‘Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls’ which tried to explain this phenomena and so I thought I should share this here in case there are others, parents with daughters who wonder why their daughter who was successful in school is not able to climb the corporate ladder just as fast.

A study by journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman on what deters professional advancement in women found that it was a shortage of confidence rather than a shortage of competence that was the reason for this lack of advancement.

When it comes to wok-related confidence, they found that men are far ahead. “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in,” they wrote. On the other hand, “Overqualified and over prepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect.”

This is so true! I find myself constantly nagging at BB to study, while he is very nonchalant about the whole thing. He always assures me that what he is done should be enough to get through the exam. GG on the other hand, is always at her desk, writing notes, studying for a test or just revising previously studied topics. I have to force her to take breaks, while I have to do the exact opposite with BB.

In fact it’s a common refrain in our home that if BB needs an hour to study a certain topic, then GG takes at the very least double that time to study the same topic. For subjects where she is stronger, she will still take time to polish her work, while BB will just skate through.

According to the article I read, it is this experience of being successful in school with little to no effort is the probably the crux to helping our sons develop confidence because they can see that they can accomplish much by just relying on their wits and memory power. School for them, serves as a test track, one where they develop skills and build beliefs in their abilities and grow increasingly confident about relying on it. Our daughters on the other hand, miss the chance to gain confidence in their abilities if they always count on intellectual ability to get ahead in life.

So how do we get our hyper conscientious girls and boys (exceptions do happen across the norm) to build both confidence along with competence at school?

For starters, both parents and teachers can and should stop praising inefficient overwork, even if it results in good grades. I am really guilty of this as I think I am old school in thinking that the longer you spend studying, the better it is. According to the author, gendered approaches to learning set in early, so it’s never too soon to start working against them.

We should also encourage girls towards a different approach to school, one that’s more focused on economy of effort, rather than how many hours they out in.

One thing as parents we can do is to teach them to become more tactical in their studying, to get them to figure how to continue to learn and get the same grades, while at the same time do a bit less. This, they can do by taking a sample test before they start studying to see how much they know before they can figure out what else they need to do to get to the level they need to be for that topic.

Teachers can also help here. When a girl with high grades turns in extra work to be marked, the teacher should ask if this is because she still can’t really understand the topic, or if it is because it’s only for bragging rights or to become a teacher’s pet. If it’s the former, then that’s great, because she knows where she lacks and is working towards it. But if it’s the latter, then the teacher needs to let her know that it is unnecessary and that she should focus her time on things that really matter.

Finally, as parents and teachers, it is our duty to keep reaffirming to our daughters that it is normal and healthy to feel some anxiety about school. Too often girls are anxious about being anxious, so they turn to excessive studying for comfort. We should remind them that being nervous about school and tests is a good thing and it means they care about it, which is only right.

Not everyone wants to become a CEO, but even If that’s the case, as a parent, we worry that our daughters will be eventually crushed by the weight of her own academic habits. While a degree of stress is good and allows a person to grow, working hard all the time with no breaks is very unhealthy and unsustainable in the long run, even for the most academically dedicated student. There is a very severe case of burnout waiting to happen.

Actually a lack of confidence is not the only thing keeping women from top jobs. Women also face gender bias, sexual harassment and very powerful structural barriers in the workplace. I have written about the issues women face in the workplace earlier, here and here. But gaining confidence in the workplace is something we can address, starting from shoring up their confidence right from school.

Many professional men brim with confidence because they have spent years getting to know their abilities. Women should arrive at work with that same confidence, that’s the only way we can ensure equality in a world where women hold up half the sky.