Our final Women in Leadership Circle for the school year was on Monday evening at Marlborough School. Thank you to Regina Rosi for hosting and feeding us yummy sandwiches and enormous brownies. What I love most about the circle is the social gathering aspect; snacks and wine make it fun.
Our topic for the evening was inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s advice for living boldly as well as her We Should All Be Feminists Ted talk. One piece of her advice that stood out advised women to stop worrying about being liked. When I read this, my initial reaction, “well not me. I say what is on my mind.” While I am not one to hold back my opinions or ideas, even when unpopular, I would be lying if I didn’t worry about the impact of my contributions after the fact. I have been awake at 3am on countless evenings running back the play by play of an interaction at work. I have sent many an explanatory email just to make sure my comments or intentions weren’t misunderstood. While my need to be liked doesn’t prevent me from doing my job, it does make me second guess and ruminate.
It was clear from our conversation on Monday that I am not alone. It was good to hear each other’s stories and advice for avoiding this inner turmoil. One common behavior we all admitted to was over apologizing. We recalled numerous interactions from starting emails and phone conversations to being bumped by another person with “I’m Sorry.” This trend among some women is not new, and yet I know it will take a lot of effort for me to stop doing so.
An aha moment for our group came from Azizi’s take on over apologizing: When we apologize we are looking for validation from the other person. It speaks to our lack of confidence and is a sign that we are looking for the other person to take care of us, putting our own insecurities first over the task at hand or relationship. Major!
We wondered why women in positions of leadership seem to be subject to more criticism and settled on that it seems like women are harder on other women. The expectation that women need to warm and nurturing is at odds with a leader’s need to make quick decisions or set tone. Again, this is a well known occurrence (a quick google of workplace gender bias will yield lots to digest), and since we can’t bust gender norms all at once, we turned our conversation toward building character attributes that will aid leadership and abet our urges to be liked. We brainstormed these attributes of good leaders:
- Be curious - ask more questions, get more information
- Follow through - close the communication gap
- The how to on having difficult conversations - Tell me about ____, mirror, validate, empathize… “here is what has to change ____.”
- Handle most things with face to face interactions over sending an email
- Public Speaking and storytelling
- Strategic vulnerability - share your feelings and experiences when appropriate
As I take on a new leadership role this fall, I see this list as good set of strategies to come back to.
Our conversation questions:
1. (from another lean in guide): Do you believe that women are judged more harshly than men? How likeable are the women you know who are in positions of power? How important is it for you to be liked by your peers?
2. In what sorts of situations do we find ourselves trying to be likable rather than ourselves?
3. Basic - but if we know that trying so hard to be liked is depleting in so many ways, makes us less authentic, tiresome, etc, why do we do it? What are the risks?
4. What is the difference between being kind vs being likeable?
5 . Adichie speaks about how we should raise our daughters. What are the implications for how we should work with our students? How do we model these ideas for our students? What are we doing to bust gender norms?
6. How can female leaders shake off scrutiny, avoid over apologizing and striving to be liked?
7. So the point is be yourself - don’t only worry about the opinions of others. We should still strive to be our best selves - what character attributes should we focus on? Are there limits to “being yourself” in the workplace?
8. The author is bothered by the inherent sexism in the idea of “having it all” because it assumes that the women are the primary caregivers and homemakers even when they work outside the home. Are we still trying to have it all? Even if our partners are equal parents, do we still take on more home/child tasks? Men have gender privilege and thus blinded to doing things to help
9. Are men and women different? Or as Adichie encourages us to ask in her article, “What are the things that women cannot do because they are women?” MTV movie awards moved to one single category for best actor. Is that progress? Are we in a post-gender era?