Women and Power – Lean in
When asked what is needed in order to help oppressed women around the world, the winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Leymah Gbowee replied, “more women in power.”
And it’s true. More women in power will make for a better world. Yet there’s a distinct void when it comes to women in leadership roles, because when it comes to power, owning it and using it, women are more conditioned to say, no thanks, than, I’ll take that, thank you very much.
In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg explains there are a few reasons why this void exists today, even though women are now represented equally in educational programs and in entry level jobs.
A niggling emotion called fear plays a large part, in Sandberg’s eyes. “Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”
Add to this fear the tendency by women to underestimate their abilities, compared to the male tendency to overestimate their performance. When it comes to self-confidence, women can be their own worst enemies. No need to put up a fight with competitors when we are tearing ourselves down internally.
And in the chapter called Success and Likability, Sandberg says that a stereotypical bias of women and success holds women back. A study conducted by Columbia Business professor and NYU professors, took the real-life business case of successful venture capitalist Heidi Rozen. For half of the students, they changed Heidi’s name to Howard. The result: students had more a favorable reaction to Howard, deeming Heidi “selfish, and not the type of person you want to work for.” The facts of the business case were identical.
I hate to admit it, but successful business women are commonly referred to as bitchy, whereas men with similar characteristics are simply deemed competent. I share Sandberg’s real concern that women will continue to favour being liked over being successful, and at the moment, those two are often mutually exclusive.
As a result of self-confidence issues, women tend to be more risk averse in the workplace – they avoid stretch assignments because they worry they don’t have the skills for a new role. Sandberg identifies an internal report from Hewlett-Packard, which reveals women only apply for jobs if they meet 100 percent of criteria, whereas men apply if they think they meet 60 percent. So, if women are reluctant to apply for promotions for which they are qualified and eligible, guess who gets them?
We can connect the dots about why women have failed to secure positions of power in our society. But when all is said and done, the “lowest hanging fruit” is to start with you. Your thoughts. Your behaviour. Do not underestimate the power of your own individual decision to expand and extend your influence. We aren’t just going to lean in, we are going to step up.