Myth or Truth? Successful Women Are Less Likeable Than Successful Men

When I give public speeches I often talk about the motivation or hesitation of women climbing the corporate ladders.  Women feel that they have choices today, and the fact that only a few make it to the very top (women are only 3.6% of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies) reveals that many women simply don’t want to get on the corporate treadmill.  Women have many roles such as being a wife, a mom and a caregiver.  They want to fulfill all these roles which can naturally hinder their ambitions of taking on demanding roles in management.


I have just finished the book by Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) who talks about the struggles of being a career woman and a mom.  Her career is exceptional and inspiring, but at the same time you feel the pain and struggle she went through to make it work.  Sheryl is of the opinion that successful women are less likeable than successful men.



Sheryl bases her finding on various studies, including the so-called Heidi/Howard experiment from 2003.  Half of the students participating in the experiment were told that the entrepreneur’s name was Heidi, and the other half was told that it was Howard.  The study then asked the students their impressions of Heidi or Howard and discovered that, though the participants rated them both as competent and worthy of respect, Howard came across more appealing while Heidi seemed less likeable and rather selfish.  There has been considerable discussion about the accuracy of this experiment, especially because it was conducted among business students who were not even in the workplace yet.


There are other studies that indicate the opposite, so that I have to ask myself: What is it about us women that we feel less worthy and respected than men?  Are we really less likeable than men in a business environment?  I respect what Sheryl Sandberg said about that topic, but at the same time I see women who are very successful in their careers also well liked.  Our nation has had three women as Secretary of State.  Many women are governors, and many have been successful in their campaigns to be elected to Congress.  Women make up 50% of the total work force today.  Just look at the most powerful Fortune 500 women such as Marissa Mayer (Yahoo), Meg Whitman (Hewlett Packard), Irene B. Rosenfeld (Kraft Foods), Sherilyn McCay (Mary Cay).  Looking at the complete list, you will be amazed about what these women have achieved.


I don’t know about you, but I cannot believe that these women are all selfish and unlikeable and absolutely no fun to work for.  I don’t need studies to know that these women are interesting and surely role models for those women who decide to make it to the top.  These women have families and raised kids and to me they are living proof that you can have a job and a life if you decide to follow that path.


It is your choice whether you want to walk that same path, but if you do decide for a career in business, don’t be worried about your likeability rating.

There might still be people out there who struggle with women in powerful positions, but they will get over it.  Likeability should not be your hurdle on the way to success.  Instead focus on what you want and just be the woman you are.


I devoted a book to this topic – Be a woman and act like one. Succeeding in Business and Life.  I think women can be successful and happy.  The few critics on your way to success should not be empowered to defeat you and your ambitions.  Don’t allow critics to stop you especially, not your inner critic who in my view is the greatest hurdle.


Be a woman and act like one. 


I would love it if you would share your story of success with this blog community.

What is your experience regarding likeability of women and men in business?

About Hertha Wolff-Arend

I am a business coach and writer located in Paso Robles, California. I am the author of the book Be a woman and act like one. Succeeding in business and life’’ and I write a blog for women with the same title. I give motivational speeches and offer leadership and personality trainings to women. I also work with business owners and managers to support them in their leadership skills and personal development. As a strategic consultant, I also help companies with their communication and marketing strategy. Born and raised in Germany, I spent most of my adult life in Europe. I have a German university degree in languages and economics and I worked for many years in the advertising industry as one of the few female managing directors in Germany for major international advertising agencies such as Young&Rubicam, TBWA and Bates. My client list consisted of mainly blue chip clients, where I was responsible for their communications strategies and the development and execution of the advertising concepts. Just to name a few clients: Lufthansa, Danone, Kraft Foods, Bosch, Singapore Airlines, Ericsson, Campbells etc. In 2004 I relocated with my husband and son to California. I graduated from New Venture West in San Francisco as a Certified Integral Coach and started my own coaching practice in 2007. I am fluent in German and English and have conversational skills in Spanish. Aside from my dedication to work and family, I am a passionate dressage rider. I am devoted to supporting women in business, with a focus on women in the lower and middle management who are aiming at a career in the higher ranks or who want to develop their own business.
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3 Responses to Myth or Truth? Successful Women Are Less Likeable Than Successful Men

  1. Daisy Platz says:

    Hi Hertha,
    I love this article and hope it will help many women out there. Your words are an excellent reminder to stay on course and to live authentically. Thank you for posting this for everyone to read.

  2. Hertha says:

    Thanks Daisy for your comment. Yes, living authentically is the key. We cannot live our lives worrying about others if they might like us or not. Just be yourself!

  3. Pingback: Start the New Year with a New Approach | Hertha-Wolff-Arend | Be A Woman And Act like One | Paso Robles Business Coaching

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