Given this season of primary presidential politics where the first female candidate for the office has a legitimate chance, it is impossible to wonder why it has taken so long for the US to have a credible female candidate. How is it possible that even though women make up more than 50% of the electorate, starting in a field of 22, there were only 2 female candidates & out of those two, only one was given a real shot at success? Unlike in decades past, today women make up more than half the college population, & we make up more than half of graduate school attendees so why aren’t there more women leaders in government or in the boardroom? It’s embarrassing but in this we lag behind the rest of both the modern and the developing world. Even when at times it feels like women are making strides, day to day work life not to mention cold data tells a different story. In fact in an anecdote told by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, she reveals a more startling truth. As the story goes, when a break was called in a board meeting she attended, the head of the board felt the need to apologize. Why? Embarrassed, he had to confess that he had no idea where the ladies room was located [obviously he never had the need to direct a female board member there before]. This is a simple but telling tale.
Female Candidates & Likability
Clearly the key piece in this anecdote is that there are not enough women who, to use business parlance, are legitimate stakeholders “with a seat at the table”. Why is that? As it turns out once we meet what seems like a higher bar for competency, in order to become leaders women have to cope with additional & some far more intangible hurdles. Basically like Ginger Rogers when dancing with Fred Astaire, women have to do everything male leaders do “except in high heels while dancing backwards.” What do I mean by this? Women are held back by variables that simply don’t apply to men-,their appearance, dress, tone/demeanor & likability. This last factor brings me back to the former Secretary of State because publicly she is almost universally seen as not very likable. When it comes to likability, men & women are once again viewed through a very different lens. In men studies have shown that success & likability are positively correlated but with women there is a negative correlation: the more successful women are, the less we are liked.. Basically, this is something men don’t even need to think about.
It All Starts With ‘A Seat At The Table’
According to Sandberg. likability is only one of many factors holding women back from achieving more leadership positions. She has 4 key takeaways for women in a fabulous video below which are especially relevant for millennials in the workplace today:
- Always "sit at the table" [Elizabeth Warren's famous quip about this is if you are not at the table then you will be on the menu!"]
- Make your partner a real partner-in other words, don’t run the “second, home shift” alone
- Don’t leave before you leave-don’t pass up opportunities for advancement today because you want a family “tomorrow”. This sounds silly but too many women shortchange their future because of the demands of a potential family before they are even in a committed relationship yet
- “Keep your hands up” [by this she means be unafraid to appropriately assert yourself]