For Women Leaders: Competence + Likability = Success

For women leaders

I recently interviewed Renee Weisman: author, consultant, and former engineer.

Renee Weisman was a distinguished engineer and Director of Engineering at the IBM corporation prior to retiring in 2008. Having spent nearly 40 years in the heavily male dominated semi-conductor engineering industry, often as the only woman, Renee learned firsthand how women can hold themselves back. Renee is the owner of Winning at Work Consulting and the author of the recently-released book, Why Hillary Lost: What Women Can Learn from the 2016 Election. The book focuses on the behaviors women must understand and the biases they must overcome to succeed. She uses the 2016 election to show how the female disadvantage impacted Hillary’s campaign and gives competent women advice on how they can address similar situations. She published her first book, Winning in a Man’s World, in 2008. Renee has two daughters, five grandchildren, and a very supportive husband.

During our interview, Renee shared her experience working in a male-dominated industry. She also explained how this experience gave her a unique insight while witnessing the 2016 presidential election. “I saw Hillary making many of the same mistakes that I’ve spent so much time advising women to avoid,” Renee said. She decided to write a book for women to address the unique challenges Hillary faced as a woman and the lessons all women can learn from her campaign.

Likability vs. Competence Trap

There are two things that occur when women compete for something that’s perceived as a “power-seeking position”:

  1. We tolerate untrustworthiness and unlikability in a man much more than in a woman
  2. Competency isn’t necessarily a virtue for a woman. “For a woman, the more successful you become, the less liked or trusted you will be, especially if you’re seeking power,” Renee said.

Renee described several fascinating studies regarding biases related to gender. All these studies show that likability and competence is directly affected by gender, much more than experience or evidence of talent. “We can’t hide behind a curtain at work, and the reality is that the biases are still there, and unfortunately, women have to deal with them,” Renee said.

But Renee remains optimistic. Though the biases are there, they can be managed if they are addressed. “If you ignore them,” Renee said, “they will come back to bite you. They will impact your long-term success in your career.”

So, what can a modern professional woman learn from the 2016 election? Renee provides several pieces of advice:

  1. If you want to get ahead as a woman, studies and statistics show that it’s more important to be likable than to be competent. “If you’re not trusted and not liked, most people will not care if you’re competent or not,” Renee said.
    1. Let people know you and be relatable.
    2. Be more inspiring.
    3. Avoid being perceived as the “B-words”: bitchy, bossy, bully.
    4. Find a balance between these perceptions and practice awareness in your behavior.
  2. Use the correct data. Get your facts straight before you try to convince someone else.
  3. Get together the right team to work with you and support you. Have a diverse team with many different points of view.
  4. Understand your audience when you’re speaking.
  5. Learn how to apologize.
  6. Address your appearance. “Even today, people judge a woman by how she looks, and then they start listening,” Renee said. “Appearance is critically important, not because you have to look so good, but to make sure appearance is a non-issue. You don’t want to look so different that people are paying attention to what you look like. You want them to pay attention to what you’re saying and doing.”

Renee’s advice would be useful to any woman looking to get ahead in a male-dominated field. Her book, Why Hillary Lost: What Women Can Learn from the 2016 Election, is now available on Amazon Kindle. She has plans to write a new book addressing harassment in the workplace.

You can listen to the full interview on the Leadership Strategies for Women Podcast.

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