The Likability Factor

Sheryl Sandberg speaks to the correlation of a woman’s success and her likability.  Men can be successful and liked but women – not so much.  The more powerful women are – the less they are liked by their peers.  Sandberg shares the derogatory pictures and comments she has endured as she became a visible member of the Facebook team.  I was surprised to learn that the COO of a social media company would draw such criticism. 

Women are in a ‘Catch 22’.  If we’re competent, we aren’t perceived to be nice enough and if we’re nice, we certainly must not be competent.  In reading Sandberg’s thoughts on women and power, I recalled Sandra Bullock who plays the highly competent and ruthless book editor in the movie ‘The Proposal’.  Bullock’s role supports Sandberg’s assertion that increased competence means reduced likability.  Bullock is portrayed as an insensitive, dictatorial manager whose employees duck for cover when she approaches.  Bullock softens only after falling under the spell of the adorable Ryan Reynolds.  Of course she does! 

Sandberg speaks to women buying into these stereotypes and taking ourselves out of the game, however, I wonder whether we really take each other out of the game?  When we get the opportunity, are we supporting other women or are we commenting on their lack of likable characteristics?  Do we sneak in a catty remark to prove there is a chink in a female colleague’s armor? Yes, at times we buy into and feed the stereotype.  Shame on us! 

Sandberg also speaks to the inability of most women to negotiate a starting salary for a new job, a raise, or promotion.  Why?  It’s back to the likability factor.  Negotiating, even when the other party expects it, makes us feel ‘unlikable’.  Sandberg was successful at negotiating with Zuckerberg when she was considering the Facebook job but only after some chiding from her husband and brother-in-law.  I can commiserate with Sandberg.  I have failed to negotiate on my own behalf more times than not, but when I did step up I usually got what I wanted. 

I’d like to hear which of your favorite movie, television or book characters perpetuate the myth.  And, to help others, please share examples of your successful negotiations. 

Speak loudly, step boldly!August 8th, 2013 8:33am Beth Bierbower Sheryl Sandberg women in leadership