Last week I wrote about how to be more confident as a woman in “Why Women Are Less Confident Than Men (And What To Do About It). ” Since confidence is directly correlated to success, we might think that all we need to do is boost our confidence and success will come our way.
Unfortunately, if you are a woman, there is one more factor to consider: Men are viewed and judged differently than women. Research has shown that when a man is successful, he is liked by people. When a woman is successful, people like her less. Even though we may try hard to be fair, our natural tendency is often to evaluate people based on stereotypes, including gender.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talks about this phenomenon in her book “Lean In.” She cites a study in which a Harvard Business School case that describes real-life entrepreneur Heidi Roizen was assigned as a reading. All the students in the study read the case study – but half of them received the case study with simply one difference – the name “Heidi” was changed to “Howard.” The students were then asked about their impressions of Heidi or Howard. The students rated them as both equally competent, but Howard was seen as the more appealing colleague and Heidi was seen as “selfish” and “not the type of person you would want to hire or work for.”
Furthermore, according to Deborah Gruenfeld, professor of leadership at Stanford, our cultural ideas associate men with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities. So there is this bias that women should be nurturing above all else. When a woman does anything that signals she might not be nice first and foremost, it creates a negative impression.
While we can’t be liked by everyone, being seen negatively holds us back. Being liked is a key factor to personal as well as professional success, since it increases other people’s willingness to make an important introduction, advocate someone for a coveted position or promote someone to the next level.
So is there a way to be confident and competent AND still be liked?
Luckily the answer is “Yes”! We just have to do things differently from men.
How do we navigate this tricky path? Sheryl Sandberg has a few suggestions. Most of them were intended to show how to handle negotiations, but I think they apply more universally as well:
- Come across as being nice and concerned about others. One way to do that is by substituting “we” for “I”. For example, “We had a great year,” instead of “I had a great year.”
- Justify requests by suggesting that someone more senior encouraged the request (e.g. “My manager suggested I talk with you about my compensation.” or by citing industry standards “My understanding is that jobs that involve this level of responsibility are compensated in this range.”)
- Combine niceness with insistence, by being “relentlessly pleasant.” This includes smiling frequently, expressing appreciation and concern, drawing on common interests, emphasizing larger goals, and focusing on solving the problem rather than taking a critical stance.
- Learn to withstand criticism. It’s ok to feel angry, sad or upset when being criticized, but after allowing ourselves to feel the emotion, it’s best to quickly move on.
- Lean on one other. The more we support each other as women, the more women will succeed. And the more successful women we see, the more any biases will subside.
I have had the privilege to work with several senior female leaders who were extremely competent and confident as well as nice and well liked, so I know that this can be done. We just need to remember that we need different strategies compared to men to succeed in the workplace.
Manuela loves helping smart and creative women bring more balance, happiness and success into their lives through Professional Life Coaching!