Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In digested chapter by chapter by Jessica Chivers – Chapter 3

Jessica Chivers is the author of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work (Hay House, £10.99). She is the founder of The Talent Keeper Specialists, an organisation helping employers hang on to and support their female talent during career transitions. See www.talentkeepers.co.uk and follow @TalentKeepersUK on Twitter.

This article is also available as nine short podcasts (totalling 38:28) on soundcloud.

Chapter 3 – Success and Likeability

In which the need to be liked is explored and what the research says about the links between likability and competence are spelled out. Clue: it’s not easy for women to be seen as both, which is a very big problem when it comes to career progression. The shocking truth of gender bias is revealed in the not-well-known-enough Howard & Heidi experiment by American professors, Frank Flynn and Cameron Anderson. And Ms Sandberg fesses up to unintentional gender biasing herself; whilst giving a talk on the subject no less. She shares how she negotiated with Mark Zuckerberg on her pay when joining Facebook but only after a good talking to from her brother-in-law.

My mind whirs as I synthesize the information, constantly coming up with practical tweaks women and workplaces can make to their approach to make the working world better for women. One is to have peers speak up for one another at pay review and bonus time – women feel much more comfortable blowing someone else’ trumpet that they do their own. And with good reason, as Sheryl explains. This is truly the chapter all managers, business leaders and equality, diversity and inclusion practitioners must read.

I underlined large swathes of this chapter, a selection here (and all assertions are backed by academic research – do buy the book for these references alone if you are EDI professional):

  • Gender biasing Our stereotype of men holds that they are providers, decisive and driven. Our stereotype of women holds that they are caregivers, sensitive and communal. Because we characterize men and women in opposition to each other, professional achievement and all the traits associated with it get placed in the male column. By focusing on her career and taking a calculated approach to amassing power, Heidi violated our stereotypical expectations of women. Yet by behaving in the exact same manner, Howard lived up to our stereotypical expectations of men. The end result? Liked him, disliked her.”

  • Women are better blowing each others’ trumpets “Jocelyn Goldfein, one of the engineering directors at Facebook, held a meeting with our female engineers where she encouraged them to share the progress they had made on the products they were building. Silence. No one wanted to toot her own horn. Who would want to speak up when self-promoting women are disliked? Jocelyn switched her approach. Instead of asking the women to talk about themselves, she asked them to tell one another’s stories. The exercise became communal, which put everyone at ease.”

  • Double standards for men and women who do and don’t support colleagues “When a man helps a colleague, the recipient feels indebted to him and is highly likely to return the favour. But when a woman helps out, the feeling of indebtedness is weaker. She’s communal right? She wants to help others. Professor Flynn calls this the ‘gender discount’ problem and it means women are paying a professional penalty for their presumed desire to be communal. On the other hand, when a man helps a co-worker, it’s considered an imposition and he is compensated with more favourable performance evaluations and rewards like salary increases and bonuses. Even more frustrating, when a woman declines to help a colleague, she often receives less favourable reviews and fewer rewards. But a man who declines to help? He pays no penalty.”

  • Arianna Huffington on getting over not being liked by everyone “Early in her career, Arianna realized that the cost of speaking her mind was that she would inevitably offend someone. She does not believe it is realistic or even desirable to tell women not to care when we are attacked. Her advice is that we should let ourselves react emotionally and feel whatever anger or sadness being criticised evokes for us. And then we should quickly move on. (Like children do).” This is sound advice and the approach I advocate with clients who seek coping strategies from me on the guilt they experience as working mothers.

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