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I Like You, I Like You Not - the Price Women Pay For Being Successful

Amongst the many obstacles women face when they aspire to leadership positions is their loss of likeability as they become more successful.
 
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Amongst the many obstacles women face when they aspire to leadership positions is their loss of likeability as they become more successful.

    SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, January 04, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Dr Maren Goerdel is the CEO and founder of WomenLeadersGlobal, an Executive and Leadership coaching and consulting company focussed on empowering women in organisations to step up to senior leadership positions. The vision is to increase the number of female leaders globally to 50 percent by 2050. WomenLeadersGlobal encourages women to contribute on all levels of society.

I like you, I like you not ...the price women pay for being successful

A few years ago I went to a political revue by the Sydney Theatre Company, in which several world leaders and nations were being ridiculed. Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, was portrayed by a male actor in a black leather dirndl evoking images of S&M dungeons, with a Hitler moustache, her right arm raised to the Hitler salute. While the artistic laziness was disappointing (there were many more pertinent current issues one could have addressed at the time), portraying her as sexually ambiguous, and a detestable dictator was derogatory and devaluing and had nothing to do with her, who was born in East Germany after WWII had ended.

There are many examples of women being vilified when in leadership positions, whether it is Margaret Thatcher, who was called "Iron Lady", or terms like snow/ice queen for Angela Merkel. Interestingly men don't seem to attract such labels unless they are real dictators and commit major war crimes.

In her recent book, "Lean In", Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of facebook raises many issues women face when they want to become leaders. One of them is that as they become more successful, their likability decreases. Interestingly, Sheryl Sandberg has been heavily criticized for her book and labeled as undeserving of her success. TIME magazine even ran a cover story about her "Don't hate her because she is successful".

She cites the "Heidi/Howard study", in which business students were asked to rank female and male bosses with identical information available for both of them. While both were seen as equally competent, the men were seen as more likeable, whereas the women were seen as selfish.

This study, which was done over 10 years ago, was recently repeated on a smaller scale. These results were somewhat more encouraging: this time the women were more likeable, and more people wanted to work for them. However they were seen as less trustworthy and suspected of having ulterior motives.

A study at New York University found that women are motivated to penalize highly successful women in order to protect them from feeling bad when comparing themselves to them.

Several studies have shown that men intrinsically dislike successful women. Late 2013, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology online found that "men feel worse about themselves subconsciously when the woman they are dating is successful. On the other hand, a woman's self-esteem is not changed by whether or not her man is successful."

All these things might make women reluctant to pursue outward success. It might contribute to the reluctance of women to take credit for their achievements. While men link achievements to their abilities, women link them to good luck and the help of others. A McKinsey study from 2011 demonstrated that men are hired for their potential, whereas women are hired for their achievements.

At the same time there is growing recognition that more feminine leadership styles, whether employed by men or women, are beneficial to companies and societies. These include values such as empathy, collaboration, connectedness, openness, flexibility and humility.

This is encouraging. We need to find ways to change the culture in our companies and societies to encourage more women to step up to the challenge of leadership. Both men and women have a lot to contribute, and a collaborative approach is likely to yield the best results. This becomes increasingly important as the world face more challenges on so many levels.

For more information, please visit: http://www.womenleadersglobal.com

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