How to Avoid “The Tiara Syndrome” and Accelerate Your Career as a Woman

The Tiara Syndrome is a term coined by Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb, the founders of Negotiating Women, Inc.

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."

Her comment was made particularly in relation to negotiating starting salary and pay rises which men tend to be more comfortable at doing than women. However, as Sheryl Sandberg writes in Lean In:

"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 a enough. In fact 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.

Of course a high level of performance is the entry ticket to career progress but sometimes this very diligence gets in the way of fast tracking your career. Many women I work with in the City explain that they are so busy doing the operational aspects of their job that they don't have time to step back and focus on strategic priorities, for example. Nor do they feel they 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. Similarly they do not seek mentors to guide them or indeed the support of sponsors to give them the invaluable exposure and opportunities needed to step up to senior leadership positions.

The Key Challenges for Women Leaders in the City

Do the following challenges resonate with you? In over 20 years of developing leaders in the City, I have repeatedly seen the following issues blocking extremely able women from progressing:

  • Insufficient impact and presence and lack of a strong personal brand
  • Lowered productivity and overwhelm through being pulled in too many directions at once and 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
  • Reduced confidence and lack of self belief as a leader

How to Breakthrough into Leadership – Create A SHIFT

In order to help women to develop as leaders, I have developed a five step SHIFT Leadership Framework.

  1. S – Strengthen Your Presence – A strong personal brand enables you to be authentic, credible and connect with people at all levels. Your brand also includes managing your energetic presence, personal image and communication, including body language.
  2. H – Harness Your Potential – This includes identifying and capitalising on your strengths as well as being clear about which weaker areas are “mission critical” and maximising time and energy. Creating balance between work and other aspects of life is also vital for sustainable career success.
  3. I – Initiate Supportive Relationships – It is necessary to develop supportive relationships within your current work setting- including sponsors and mentors – as well as in a wider professional network. It is important to be able to initiate these relationships, enhance your influence and also handle difficult relationships.
  4. F – Focus on Strategy – To be a successful leader requires developing more of a “big picture” approach and increasingly focusing on the strategic aspects of your role and the business as a whole. It is also helpful to take a strategic approach to your career.
  5. T – Think Like a Leader – Thinking like a leader underlies all the other aspects of the SHIFT framework. It is necessary to develop a leadership mindset. 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 date in order to take on even higher level leadership tasks.

​These five SHIFT dimensions empower women to be proactive in progressing their careers and not wait for someone else to "crown" them as leader. As Sheryl Sandberg says:

"Do not wait for power to be offered. Like that tiara, it might never materialise."

To Find out More

If you would like to learn more how you can make a SHIFT or how you can help support the women leaders and future leaders in your organisation to do so, please visit:

How to Avoid "The Tiara Syndrome" and Accelerate Your Career as a Woman  London 23 May

​For a hands-on experience of how YOU can make  a SHIFT in your career , we would love to invite you to join us on the evening of Tuesday 23 May at The Bishopsgate Institute in the City, almost opposite Liverpool Street Station. For more information and to book a a place, please follow the link below:

Catherine Cuffley is an executive coach and founder of Thinking Choices Limited. She specialises in working with organisations in the City of London to help them to develop their women leaders. She works with senior professional women in banks, insurance companies, law firms and management consultancies etc. to support them in achieving their next leadership position. This may be a place on the board or indeed their first leadership position and everything in between.

Catherine is the author of the forthcoming book, SHIFT: Insights from a City Coach on Succeeding as an Authentic Woman Leader and she also speaks at conferences and events, such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) on the application of neuroscience to leadership, amongst other topics.

Catherine has spent many years in the City in a range of Human Resources and Learning and Development roles. She has also worked as a Change Management Consultant in financial services organisations. She has repeatedly seen the way in which many talented women in City organisations are not quite reaching the more senior positions they seek. Catherine’s mission is to support women in fulfilling their potential and maximising their contribution whilst enabling organisations to optimise their female talent.

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