In Summary
  • Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women

  • Nobody gets the corner office by sitting on the side of the table

  • Sheryl Sandberg urges women to make their partners real partners instead of trying to do it all

My colleague and I went out to get some lunch the other day. We were in such a hurry that when the lift came down, we did not wait for the passengers to alight as polite people would do but instead elbowed our way in before a poor middle-aged lady could alight.

Her murmurs of: “I’m so sorry, I am so sorry” immediately put us to shame. Shouldn’t we have been the ones apologising?

The incident above, while regrettable, is not entirely unique but speaks volumes on some of the traits we have as women which keep us from rising in our careers.

Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In touches extensively on this subject . The following 5 lessons are drawn from this.

Playing nice girl

I do not stand in judgment of the lady’s reaction at the lifts. Studies have been done about this ‘niceness syndrome’ among women. Books have been published on this topic.

Harvard Business School conducted a case study of a successful female venture capitalist named Heidi. One professor presented this case study of her career path to two groups of students.

He used her real name for the first group, but changed her name to Howard for the second group.

Although everyone agreed that Heidi and Howard were both successful, the distressing part was that male and female students liked Howard as a person, but had a more negative perception of Heidi's character.

Sheryl Sandberg mentions the study in her book Lean In and concludes that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.

According to , Dr. Lois Frankel , author of Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers  this trend of “worrying about offending others” is why some women roar ahead in their careers while others stagnate.

While this is not a license to be rude, it is a call to move from meekness to assertiveness. Otherwise you will just remembered as nice and not much else.

Dr. Lois Frankel further asserts that if you recognize and change the behaviours that say "girl" not "woman", the results will pay off in career opportunities you never thought possible--and in an image that identifies you as someone with the power and know-how to occupy the corner office.

Sitting by the side of the table

The phrase ‘sit at the table’ was made popular by Sheryl Sandberg.

In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. In her talk, she narrates a story of how powerful women accompanied their boss to a meeting but sat on the side of the table, something that she realized was common among women (no matter what their backgrounds were).

She concludes the story by saying: Nobody gets the corner office by sitting on the side of the table.

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