Lean In Chapter Three, Success and Likeability

This chapter sort of broke my heart because it spoke some truths that were just really hard to admit and really hard to accept. 

Performed by Colombia Business School and New York University, a case study was written up based on the real-life accomplishments of an entrepreneur named Heidi that listed her accomplishments as well as some personality traits relevant to attaining her success.  Out of the students assigned to read this case study, half were provided her real name, Heidi, and the other half received the case-study giving the entrepreneur the false name of  “Howard”.

In a nutshell the students in the study liked Howard but not Heidi, even though they were the same person.

This was perhaps the most discouraging paragraph in the book for me:

This experiment supports what research has already clearly shown: success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.  When a man is successful, he liked by both men and women.  When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.

Our stereotypes of men holds that they are providers, decisive, and driven.  Our stereotype of women holds that they are caregivers, sensitive and communal.  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.

Sandberg shares how she, along with “almost every senior woman” she knows has been described as “not well liked by her peers”, too aggressive”, “not a team player” and “difficult”.  She then shares how in her past she tried to hide or downplay her achievements because she knew it would make her liked less.

Um, can we just take a second here to grieve for every girl who tried to hide how smart she is, or what awards she has won – because she was worried that those things would stop both her male and female classmates and colleagues from liking her?


Assuming that they are working with integrity and kindness, I just don’t think women should have to choose between those two things.

I don’t think Evangeline should have to choose between those two things.

I don’t think I should have to choose between those two things.

I think it is really interesting to note that men are praised in our society when not only are they “providers, decisive and driven” but ALSO when they take on those stereotypical “female” qualities as well.  When we see a man who is a caring and gentle father, a sacrificial friend and a sensitive soul, we (okay maybe I am just speaking about women here!) LOVE it!  I love a man who can lead a tribe and also care for it.

But then I remember the names that men are called in many circles, like “pansy”, “sissy” or even “effiminate” if they display more nurturing, creative and gentle sides and so I gotta give my brothers a “sigh” as well.

I am thankful to have not experienced this firsthand…unless people hate me behind my back because I can bake awesome apple pies and lead a killer meeting.  

My primary background is in education, which is a very ‘female-friendly’ environment so seeing women who are successful at their teaching careers feels okay to us, and very normal.  Along with education is my ministry work which has been primarily with an organization that actively supports and advocates for women leaders and just in general is made up of people who are kind and loving toward each other!  Sadly in many fields and contexts this is simply not the case.

I don’t think we need to throw away or ‘get over’ the stereotype that women are care-takers, sensitive and communal.  Because we are.  At least somewhere on the spectrum, just as some men will be somewhere on the spectrum of driven and decisive.

God made male and female for a reason.

There is a purpose behind the two genders.

But stereotypes and rigid molds don’t help anyone.

Can we, for the love, bring some nuance to the conversation?

Is it okay that I am ambitious and strong and decisive and nurturing, sensitive and communal?

Can women still be affirmed in their gender even if they are stronger than they are weak, more logical than emotional?

Can we bring these beautiful ‘female’ qualities to the work place just as men bring their ‘male’ qualities to the home?   I hope so.  Because even though I love to be up front leading the meeting, sometimes I also need to, um, go in the bathroom for a good cry.

When I think about what I can do, as a Christian, about this phenomenon of success and likeability in women a couple of things come to mind:

1) Repent.  When I feel those biases towards a successful woman coming up in my own heart that threaten her likeability in my eyes, I need to repent, plain and simple.   If it is someone I know I may need to ask forgiveness.

2) Help a sister out.  I think it is possible that some women feel the need to take out the claws because frankly they know the deck is stacked against them.  I can help the women I know who are currently working full time or pursuing demanding careers with friendship, childcare offers and lots of grace and prayer to let them know they are not only liked, but they are loved.

3) Not be afraid of how God created me.  Yeah, it’s true.  I cry a lot.  And I want to mother pretty much every person I meet.  I am also pretty ambitious and strong and decisive and sometimes I wish I were different.  But I don’t want to deny any part of me (so long as I am glorifying God and not harming others) because of what is or is not expected of me.  As women continue to rejoice in their identity and form and freedom, I think we will see change.  I hope so, anyways.

I want to be successful in my domesticity, in my relationships and yes even in my career choices.  But I also want to be liked.

Can I have both, please? 




2 thoughts on “Lean In Chapter Three, Success and Likeability

  1. Keeley

    Really enjoying this series! As an ICU RN, I also work in a female-dominant field in which care and nurture are significant aspects of my job, but so are critical thinking and biology and chemistry and working with complicated technical equipment. Combine that with a fairly confident, outspoken personality, and I can definitely relate!!!


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