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Walking The Tightrope between Competence and Likeability For Women

There is a famous case study provided to MBA students, that asks them to provide their reactions to a highly successful Venture Capitalist, entrepreneur, co-founder of a Silicon Valley tech company, executive for Apple, a close friend of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, with one of the most extensive networks, known for great negotiations, called Howard Roizen.

Having read the biography, the students typically rate the individual as highly competent and effective, expressing a wish to hire, be mentored by, or work with him.

But, of course, Howard doesn’t exist.

‘He’ is actually Heidi Roizen - and whilst the students recognise Heidi as competent, they are no longer so keen to hire or work with this person.

The case study serves to demonstrate the bias that women cannot be both competent and likeable - the entrepreneurial qualities of self-confidence and vision in a man, are perceived as arrogance and self-promotion in a woman.

Women constantly face a tradeoff between competence and likeability. Successful women who apply the same techniques as men to demonstrate their capability and effectiveness, frequently find their behaviour being misinterpreted as “selfish”, “aggressive” or “difficult to work with”, perceived as competent but lacking warmth.

There is a clash between our stereotypical notions of what a woman should be (caring, nurturing) versus what we believe is necessary for a male job. If a woman can demonstrate that they can do a ‘man’s job’, they no longer fit our mental model of an ‘ideal woman’

What examples have you observed of women walking the tightrope between competence and likeability?


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