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?