What is tiara syndrome?

“Tiara syndrome” is the (often feminine ideal) that if you do your job well, someone will notice and come place a tiara on your head. The term was originally developed by Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb. 

I first came across tiara syndrome’s meaning in “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg—and when I did, I laughed out loud. First, because I refused to be associated with something so girly. And second, because it described me perfectly.

Tiara syndrome holds women back

In “How Women Rise,” Sally Helgesen refers to tiara syndrome as “expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your contributions”—and she says it’s one of the 12 habits holding female leaders back. 

It’s not that there are no men who exhibit this behavior, but women are statistically more likely to. We expect that if we keep doing our job well, someone will notice, thus crowning us with a tiara. 

Early in my career, this is exactly what I did. 

Kept my head down. 
Worked harder than anyone else. 
Took on new projects. 
Someone will notice, I thought. 

I was afraid to ask for recognition, but assumed it would just come—that good job performance would naturally lead to rewards. 

Unfortunately, in the hyper competitive tech space, this isn’t how it works.

Instead, share your impact

As women, we have to take credit for our impact and negotiate for things that our male colleagues take for granted. 

How do we do this?

  • Don’t wait for your boss or investor to check-in, share your milestones with them.  
  • Create a weekly report or personal dashboard of KPIs and tasks. Highlight key wins in revenue, cost-savings, or time-savings.
  • When it’s time, do the research on job salaries and make your pitch. 

You may receive some pushback—women aren’t “supposed to be” self-aggrandizing or assertive. But if you’re working with honorable leaders, they’ll appreciate you for owning your recognition.

You don’t need the tiara

I used to wait around for the tiara, but let’s be real, I don’t need it. 

I work hard everyday because that’s the kind of person I want to be.

So don’t stop doing your job well, but make sure that the people who you want to notice, notice.

One last note on “tiara syndrome”

While I’ve defined tiara syndrome here and use the term because it’s short and easy to remember, I do see the potential problem with it. 

Once, when sharing my thoughts on how we can overcome this habit, a woman let me know how problematic she feels the name is. 

“Words matter,” she said. “And women are already viewed as high maintenance, needy, and other various negative terms. Please don’t add ‘tiara syndrome’ to the mix.”

Since then I’ve tried to think of a less sexist name for tiara syndrome. Gold star syndrome is my favorite thus far, but I’m taking notes. 

Whatever we call it, it’s so important that we as women speak up and own our recognition.


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