Over the years, many women have asked me how to navigate the conundrum between likeability and success. This made me dig deeper to try and understand what the true problem is and why does it appear to be acute in case of women Vs men.
As men achieve success in their careers, they seem to become very naturally more likeable and popular but in case of women, it’s a mixed bag and in most cases they become less likable and in many cases are labeled as a “bit****”.
Let me address 3 things in this blog
- My personal story
- Why the syndrome hits women – gender stereotypes and science
- What we as women can do about it…and how men can help
Over the last 24 years I have worked for a couple of world class organizations around the globe. There have been some distinctly common themes
1. I am usually among the first few if not the first Female VP/ MD/Partner in the organization
2. I am looked at very skeptically in the first 6 to 9 months ( sometimes even labeled as a diversity hire – which is very painful)
3. I have to work my “A**” off to prove myself
4. Among many other “labels” I am called too “pretty” to be intelligent …too “petite” to be assertive
5. As I meet more people and start voicing my point of view in a discussion – I am labeled as aggressive (which in my mind is fantastic because being bossy is a leadership skill)
6. Eventually I am accepted as “ one of the boys” but without losing my sense of individuality or feminism ( which is extremely important for me )…..as I create my own space and my own niche.
It is always a journey and I have to remind myself that I don’t necessarily have to be Liked .. But I have to have an IMPACT on the organization, the people and most importantly the Clients….when people see what I can do.. they will eventually not have a choice but to like me.. But I don’t hold my breath for that!
There is a very popular HBR case study where identical profiles of candidates were given to 2 separate student groups. The case study was that of a real life successful venture capitalist. To one group the name was revealed as Heidi and to another he was showcased as Howard. Their accomplishments were identical. The students were then asked to rate the candidate on competence. Both groups scored Heidi and Howard as equally competent. However, Howard was rated as very appealing, but Heidi was rated as selfish- not the kind of person you would work for or hire!
Just one single difference i.e. the gender made people come to such different conclusions!
If a woman is competent she doesn’t seem nice enough and if a woman is nice then she is stereotyped to be less competent. And God forbid if she is pleasant looking and well put together, she is deemed to be even less competent in the corporate world. The experiment proved that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and somewhat negatively correlated for women. If one were to dig deeper – men are supposed to go-getters, providers, aggressive hunters, whereas women are expected to be “Nice” and Nurturing. When women deviate from this centuries old gender stereotype – society doesn’t take it kindly and this explains why successful women are rarely liked by both men and women. Since people want to hire someone who is both competent and nice- this becomes a huge stumbling block for women.
So the obvious question is that how are women supposed to deal with this?
Does it mean we will our ambition or not talk about our success? Absolutely not! In my mind, every individual needs to reach their ultimate potential in life – whether it’s their work, or their passions.
- There aren’t that many female role models as there are male role models. There aren’t as many senior women in the corporate world or any other industry. When we get to 50:50 some of this “dislike” will go away as its impossible not to like so many women.
2. Getting rid of the Queen Bee syndrome – Women have a tendency to assume that there is only 1 queen bee in their immediate circle of work or influence. We need to get rid of this notion and make place on the podium for more women. The reason the queen bee syndrome exists is because there were such few successful women . That’s the very reason we need to hit the nail on the head and dispel this myth that there is only place for few successful or likable women. Women need to pull each other up. Women do a very poor job of bragging about their own accomplishments, but they are great at telling success stories of colleagues, friends and family. Lets use this sense of “ communal bragging” for our collective benefit. When you constantly hear how awesome someone else is- we will automatically start liking them. Remember “ there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”
3. It is obvious but I will say this none the less
- Be GREAT at what you do. Not just good but GREAT
- Find a niche at work – something for which YOU are the go to person
- Celebrate small wins – both yours and your teams.
- Talk about your and your colleagues accomplishments. Pull others up. Praise Others. Talk about your team.
- While negotiating for yourself – talk about how it will benefit the team / the group / the division / the company. Negotiate HARD but don’t make it about yourself. Be “relentlessly pleasant” When a compensation offer is put on the table 57% men negotiate for a better offer and only 7 % women do. Quoting Sheryl Sandberg ( COO Facebook), while negotiating – Think personally, act communally” You will get a lot done. Also you will be surprised at how muchprogress you can make if you are willing to give the credit to someone else!
- Women are wired to have show Empathy. It is a great tool. In the corporate world which is so testosterone driven – EQ is largely a scare commodity. Make sure you use Empathy as a tool as it comes naturally to women. Its is good to get to know the people who work for you, with you. Always give them a helping hand and listen to them. I cannot begin to explain how under-rated the “listening” skill is. When there is enough empathy in the system – You don’t have to worry about likeabilty.
- Arianna Huffington ( Of Huffington Post fame) said “ learning to withstand criticism is a necessity for women” . We as women should let ourselves act emotionally and feel the anger or sadness of the moment for being criticized…… and Then MOVE ON.
- A friendly piece of advise to men. When you are thinking of passing a judgement on a female co-worker, subordinate or boss, can I please request you to pause for a moment and ask yourself a simple question – “ Would I be thinking differently if this were a man?” You can be the change agent for calling out some of the typical gender stereotypes and help level the playing field for women!
Women have this inherent desire to be “liked” by everyone and that holds us back. If we want to change things and make progress – we need to be absolutely clear in our minds that we cannot please everyone. If you please everyone , then you are not making progress. Lets get this clear – Perhaps the only place where you can please everyone is on Facebook…. Welcome to the real world where success is not going to be based on the Likes you get on Facebook but the Change and progress you can bring to your work place.
Vaishali Kasture is successful female corporate role model, feminist, passionate about running and fitness, also runs Not For profits Indian amateur runners trust , and Sonder connect.