<![CDATA[Just the other day, another woman client started our executive coaching session by setting a new goal of learning to smile more at work. I coach both women and men clients, yet only the women seem to get developmental feedback from their supervisors that they need to smile more. This feedback comes more frequently as they move up the ladder to senior levels of responsibility. And, in my experience, women get this feedback a lot. The message my female clients seem to take from this is that there is something wrong with them that they need to fix. But I think Sheryl Sandberg summed it up well in her book Lean In when she described some excellent research by Heilman and Okimoto: “When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.” I thought about this research when I read a recent New York Times newspaper article with the headline, “In Memoir, Hillary Clinton Emphasizes Her Softer Side.” I stopped and did a double take when I saw this headline. I wondered if, based on the harsh reaction Clinton triggered in many women and men during her 2008 campaign for president, she has been advised to do the equivalent of “smiling more”—or showing her softer side. So much research has been done now on what some authors call “the likeability factor,” including that recorded in Babcock and Laschever’s book Women Don’t Ask, that we have to take the gender difference seriously. It may seem unfair that women are held to a different standard of leadership behavior, but it seems to be a reality for us at this point in time. It’s not that women have to get “fixed,” it’s that different gender stereotypes mean we sometimes have to act differently to be successful. Here are some approaches that have worked for my clients:
- They smile more than their male peers to help people be comfortable with them as leaders.
- They invest more time than their male peers in relational behavior, such as listening to others.
- They take time to share some personal information and show an interest in the personal lives of others.