A couple of months ago I wrote a post in response to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, where she encouraged women to lean in. My post, found here, was not so much a disagreement with her statements as much as the actual term, leaning in. That term merely seems too non-committal; either do something all the way or don’t do it at all. In my opinion there should be more jumping and less leaning.
In Sandberg’s book, she mentions that women have a tendency to hold back, if you will, because they have seen how other women become less liked when they find success in business. She writes, “If a woman is competent, she does not seem nice enough. If a woman seems really nice, she’s considered more nice than competent. Since people want to hire and promote those who are both competent and nice, this creates a huge stumbling block for women.”
She also says that, “Success and like-ability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.”
“Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost.”
Do you agree that female accomplishments in the workplace come at a cost? And why does it matter how much a successful woman is liked? If her goal is to rise to the top, it is not likely that she recognizes that the rise comes from hard work, intelligence and competency rather than winning a popularity contest. Do you think that women really put limits on themselves for fear of being disliked? If so, there sure is a lot that we need to change if the next generation of girls is to have equal rights to leadership positions.
Yesterday I read this piece in the Harvard Business Review where researchers found that women are actually not disliked more when they rise to leadership roles in an organization. Well, that really is a huge relief (I say sarcastically as I pretend to wipe sweat off my brow). Now we can surely tell girls not to worry because they will still be able to participate in that popularity contest even if they are successful in business.
Despite my personal feelings about the title of the book, it was written, in part, as a way to encourage girls and women to be more ambitious, and to create the conversations that can create a change for the better. (We can start by socializing girls from a young age with strong female characters to look up to in books, movies and television. ) Though a few friends pointed out to me that from their perspective her book comes from a skewed socioeconomic perspective, I think it is a conversation worth having.
After all, don’t we want young girls today to grow up thinking that they really can become anything they want? Don’t we want them to live in a world where leaders are just leaders, and not female leaders?