I'm currently reading 'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg, a look into the COO of Facebook life and how she became one of the top leaders in Tech. She mentions a few times throughout the chapter 'Success and Likeability' on some women's tendencies to 'shy away' when asked what they do or to tell others of their successes. They give an almost-embarassed half shrug, accompanied by a reply of 'oh I just run a little shop' or 'I own my own business, it's only small'. I know this because I used to do it. Men on the other hand, when asked what they do, they give a clear, no-hint-of-embarassment reply such as; 'I run a tech company' or 'I'm an insurance broker'. No 'but's, or shrugs. It may seem like a slight difference when written down, but I'm sure you can imagine the tones and body language.
'Lean In' is brimming with quotable, One Girl Band-friendly lines: "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" and so on. There's one line in particular that stuck with me:
"As a man gets more successful, he is better liked by men and women, and as a woman gets more successful, she is less liked by men and women."
Sandberg bases her claim on an experiment conducted with business students in 2003. The researchers presented the students with a story of a successful entrepreneur. They told half the students that the entrepreneur's name was Heidi, and then told the other half that it was Howard. They asked 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 as a more appealing colleague. Heidi, on the other hand, was seen as selfish and not "the type of person you would want to hire or work for." The same data with a single difference - gender - created vastly different impressions.
I've told various people about this experiment, and they all were surprised. Is it bad that I wasn't? It's proven that a successful, powerful women is deemed as 'bossy', 'a know-it-all', and in extreme cases, a 'bitch'. Even other women sometimes bash the girls who seem like they've got their shit together. Of course, no one does have all their shit together, but shouldn't we be celebrating those girls anyway? We shy away when we're asked what we do because we don't want to come across as unlikeable, and that's sad. We worry about what others think of us, men or women, and that's just not helpful to us or our businesses.
We need to shout about our successes. We need to reply with a 'I own my own business (and do you know what, I'm pretty fucking good at it)'. Let's celebrate our hard work, and tell people about our businesses + ventures without apologising for it.
If someone doesn't like you because you're successful, that's their problem, and a reflection of the sort of person they are. Don't let it stop you from killing it. You're brave, strong and capable of everything.
I should also mention that the Heidi/Howard experiment was carried out again in 2013, ten years after the first one. This time around, students rated the female entrepreneur as more likable and desirable as a boss compared to the male. As theatlantic.com stated: "In the 10 years since the original Heidi/Howard experiment was conducted, we've seen two female Secretaries of State and a record number of women elected to Congress. Women have become nearly half the workforce. It's no surprise, then, that today's students are more receptive to the idea of a successful woman. In their minds, female leaders are transforming from a scary concept to an appealing reality."
This shows we are making steps of progress, but why not turn them into leaps? Let's start owning our successes.