Does being more likable than men help or hurt a woman’s career? by Roz Usheroff
Following up on my last post in which I touched upon the subject of likability, I was reminded of a Harvard Business Review article titled “New Research Shows Success Doesn’t Make Women Less Likable“.
Counter to what many might believe, the study to which the article refers found that “male leaders are perceived more negatively as they rise, whereas women generally maintain their popularity throughout their entire careers.”
In short, and as demonstrated by the following graphic, success and likability – at least when it comes to women ascending the corporate ladder – does seem to go hand-in-hand.
While, as the article points out, there are many barriers that confront women in the business world “likability” or the existence of a “likability penalty” is not one of them.
Besides the obvious question as to why women are more likable than men when they are promoted, perhaps a query of even greater importance is whether this likability factor is a benefit or is itself a barrier for women? In other words, at what cost does likability come?
In my March 21st, 2012 post “Are women better leaders than men?” 54% of respondents indicated that women are indeed better leaders. Ironically a similar study referenced in a January 2014 Business Insider article by Bob Sherwin regarding overall leadership effectiveness, produced an almost identical result. Specifically, 54.5% of those polled expressed the opinion that women are more effective in a leadership role.
Yet, despite these results, and the fact that women make up more than half of the overall workforce, only 3% to 4% according to the Sherwin article have attained the level of CEO.
Why the disconnect?
I believe that the following excerpt from my March 2012 post does, at least in part, provide some needed insight into the significant discrepancy between women’s perceived effectiveness as leaders and their actual position in terms of occupying the loftier heights of the executive world.
To start, women limit their opportunities to be heard because they fear being judged as too aggressive, pushy, or disagreeable. They stand on ceremony and often avoid speaking out to avoid criticism. Meanwhile, male colleagues naturally take the risk, present the same idea, and are applauded for their insights.
It is also worth noting that women are still concerned about what others think, and they fear criticism. They have a strong desire to be liked by others. It’s part of the way we’ve been socialized. We often get caught up in the “Good Girl Trap,” believing that being liked is a priority. This translates into the belief that unparalleled commitment and achieving results are enough to move up the ranks. Men have cleverly figured out that they don’t have to do all the work as long as it gets done.
Even though there are other factors that must be taken into consideration, women need to get beyond the above inhibitors and focus on their strengths.
In this regard my earlier advice still stands – regardless of whether you are a woman or a man;
1. Speak up. Make it a habit to give your opinion at least once during every meeting. If you fear that you will be seen as too aggressive or opinionated, speak up but invite others to voice their thoughts as well. This illustrates that you are collaborative and value others’ opinions.
2. Speak up and ask for what you want. Develop the courage and tenacity to do so.
3. Attack overwhelming problems systematically. BE STRATEGIC.
Identify what the obstacles are and then tackle them down step by step.
4. Don’t get stuck in the negative. Move from why it isn’t happening to how it could happen. USE “OPPORTUNITY” NEVER ‘PROBLEM’
5. Don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with a good team to make change happen. Build relationships so you can secure champions and sponsors within your organization.
6. Be a general. Have a good understanding of corporate politics, power structures, and alliances. Pick your battles wisely.
7. Build your “net worth.” Look at networking as your “net worth” and book time in your calendar to follow up all leads–even superficial ones. This is how men boost their visibility and make business connections.
8. Have courage. Venture out of your comfort zone. Confidence comes from celebrating lessons learned, rather than focusing on what didn’t work. And confidence creates the foundation needed for taking on leadership roles. Embrace your fear—and use it as a motivator.