One of the interesting things that Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, author of Lean In, has been saying recently is that people don’t like successful women in the same way that they admire and like successful men.
In 2003, Columbia Business School ran an experiment to test perceptions of men and women in the workplace.
They started with a real life case, Heidi Roizen. Heidi had become a successful venture capitalist and the business case described the story of her success, using phrases like “outgoing personality” and “vast personal and professional network”.
Two copies of the business case were made. In one she remained Heidi, in the other ‘Heidi’ was replaced with ‘Howard’.
Half the students were given Heidi’s story and the other half Howard’s. The students were then asked about their impressions of Heidi or Howard. Both were rated as equally competent, both were respected. Heidi however, was seen as ‘selfish and not the type of person you’d want to work for’ Howard was viewed much more kindly.
I have seen numerous examples of this double standard being applied to women; I suspect I have even done it myself. (Shame on me). Because there are so few women at the top and we all know how difficult it is for women to get there, do we make assumptions that they must not have been nice people in the first place? Assumptions that we don’t make about men who have a ‘natural right’ to be there?
I certainly saw it in my work with offenders in the criminal justice system. Women were held to different standards by the judiciary.
If we punish women for success by not liking them how are we going to redress the balance? Will we perforce end up with women leaders who don’t care what people think of them? Is that a necessary quality in a leader?
And if you are a woman do you mind that successful women are more disliked than their male counterparts? What impact does it have on our ability to do the job? Does the fear of being thought strident, or distrusted hold you back?
What do you think?
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Photo by Melissa Anthony
Posted on April 24th, 2013 by Jane