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Likeability and Success – Is Wanting to Be Liked Holding You Back?

Posted by Lauren DiChiacchio on Mar 20, 2013 2:59:00 PM

Career Tips, Staffing Solutions, Behavioral Health, Education, HealthcareDuring this past month, it has been almost impossible to avoid an article, media appearance or news show that was not discussing Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

If you have managed to miss it, the book attempts to help women understand why they need to lean into their careers to achieve the success they so richly deserve and some of the issues that hold them back.

This topic hits home at Staffing Plus since we are a woman-owned organization with a significant number of women holding leadership roles within the company.  They along with Sandberg see first hand the scarcity of women in leadership roles.  Sandberg’s goal is to start a conversation about how to narrow that gap. One subject she tackles head on is the issue of likeability and how it can hold women back.

According to Sandberg “success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. As a man gets better, gets more successful, gets more powerful, gets to the corner office, everyone likes him better, men and women. As a woman gets more successful, everyone likes her less, men and women.”

While the sentiment is certainly not groundbreaking, Sandberg goes on to write that for women, not being liked is inherently difficult and that women have been raised to value that quality in themselves very highly. She shares that she cared so much about being liked, that Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook told her during her first performance review that it was limiting her ability to lead and she said, "he was right."

Is Being Likeable Holding Women Back and Why Does it Matter?

When we think about women in healthcare careers, the issue of likeability is an important one.  As Sandberg writes "it is at the core of what holds women back."

If you selected healthcare as a career, your job centers around caring for others, nurturing, listening and understanding. Those are all important qualities to have if you're a counselor or social worker. But you may need another set of skills if you want to advance your career.

While many successful men care about being liked too, they don't let it get in their way of interrupting to make a point, asking for the big project that will get them attention; or dealing with colleagues and subordinates if they are interfering with their success.

For women who have been conditioned since they were children to be polite, you face the difficult challenge of silencing those voices in your head to advocate for your own success. You learned early on that being too smart didn't get you dates and speaking up did not make you popular.

According to Sandberg "If a woman seems competent, she does not seem nice enough. If a woman seems really nice, she is considered more nice than competent. Since people want to hire and promote those who are both competent and nice, this creates a huge stumbling block for women."

What are the Ramifications of Likeability?

If you think this only affects interpersonal relationships and getting promoted, then you need to understand that this overwhelming urge to be liked may be affecting your compensation. Men feel perfectly comfortable negotiating for a higher salary, better benefits or more perks. When a women behaves in a similar way, both women and men react unfavorably. Why? Because women are not expected to point out their value or be their own advocates. So it should come as no surprise that many women are making less than a man would in the same position.

Look, it's a lot easier to stay quiet and not push the envelope. It's not easy to avoid getting upset or to care when you are attacked. But that is ok. Do what you have to do. Close the door and cry, get upset – but then move on. Hillary Clinton has most likely had some moments where she needed to compose herself after a bruising story or attack ad.

Many women don't have enough role models to help them navigate this behavior and to learn new ones. As Sandberg points out "Real change will come when powerful women are less of an exception. It is easy to dislike senior women because there are so few. If women held 50 percent of the top jobs, it would just not be possible to dislike that many people."

Want to begin a great new career? Need to find qualified behavioral health, healthcare, or educational staff? Search our open job listings or request staffing today!

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Staffing Plus Blog

Topics: Career Advice

Staffing Plus is a premier healthcare staffing firm that provides temporary, per diem, temp-to-hire and permanent Staffing Solutions for Behavioral Health, Education, and Healthcare settings. We have leveraged decades of experience to assist organizations with the challenges of managing their HR and Recruiting needs.