You Say Bossy, I Say HBIC

This post is the first of three in a "mini-series" about Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. I am writing this mini-series for my Consumer Behavior class. To learn more about why I chose this topic, read my post "Why Sheryl Sandberg Is My Homegirl". Since I am being graded on this, I will be including citations from Lean In as well as referencing consumer behavior concepts from my textbook.

Ever heard of the Harvard Business School's Heidi/Howard study? The study showed that success and likability are positively correlated for men, while they are negatively correlated for women. This holds true even if their credentials are identical (HBS). In her book Lean InSheryl Sandberg details this as a reason for why women are more likely to downplay their achievements or even pull back their aspirations, in fear of being seen as "not a team player" or "bossy" (Sandberg).

Before you label this as an "angry feminist man-hating" post, take a minute to realize that Sheryl's book introduces a series of hard data from reputable sources, which is what her discussions are based upon.

Note that Queen Bey also disapproves of the term bossy and she's not an "angry feminist man-hater" either. Just a thought.

While I consider myself to be a highly ambitious person, with many aspirations, I most definitely have a tendency to downplay my achievements. Ask me where I have interned and my go-to response is: "At a manufacturing plant, as an internal consultant, and for a financial firm." By saying this, I severely discount myself. Instead, I should be saying: "I have interned for three Fortune 500 companies: Procter & Gamble, Walt Disney World, and JPMorgan Chase."

The thing is, I always figured that this unnecessary sincerity was because I am a historically shy person. I never stopped to think that maybe society has conditioned me to downplay my achievements due to a subliminal fear of being seen as bossy and of fostering dislike towards me (Babin 51, 57).

My mother always tells me: anything a man can do, I will do better and I will look damn good doing so wearing heels and a dress.

I have personally never felt that finding success negatively relates to how much others like me. Instead, I hope that it is my sparkling personality and muted sarcasm that draws people to me. But simply because I believe that perceptions and likability cannot be subconsciously skewed by a person's success does not mean that it doesn't actually occur. I expect that this phenomenon is something that I will experience more noticeably later on in my career.

Perhaps another reason that I do not think that this correlation exists is because I have never thought of myself as bossy or, more simply put, I do not care if others think I am bossy. I personally like to think that I exude more of an "HBIC vibe", instead of being bossy. If you don't know what HBIC stands for, google it.

Yes, I joke. Don't call me an HBIC because I probably won't appreciate it.

So instead, call me a leader because that's what I pride myself in being.

As a child, my mother signed me up for Girls Scouts. She didn't do this so I could be a follower. She wanted me to be grow up being a leader without ever worrying about what society stereotyped "women leaders" as. My mother never failed to tell me: anything a man can do, you will do better and you will look damn good doing so wearing heels and a dress. She wanted me to understand that just because I'm wearing heels and a dress does not mean my dreams are any less important or any less attainable than one of my male peers.

This can be tough to remember when our male peers still joke about how us girls are only at college to earn our "M.R.S. degrees." It's hard to tell if they really think we're painfully incapable or if they find joy in belittling female achievements.

I declared my major the second semester of my freshman year. I made the decision to declare as an Industrial and Operations Engineering major. The acronym for the department is "IOE" or something other departments like to call "In and Out Easy." I still remember an evening, riding the bus home with one of my male engineering peers and telling him that I had just declared as an IOE.

His response? "Oh, that makes sense. There are a lot of girls who do IOE because it's easier and less like real engineering."

He couldn't just settle for calling me unintelligent, he needed to stress that the whole female population was unintelligent. 

But perhaps the most challenging part of being a successful female is finding a suitable leadership style that also works for people who do not share my mother's open mindset. As Mary Sue Coleman, the 13th President of the University of Michigan, has said, women leaders need to be "relentlessly pleasant" and find a way to combine the niceness society expects with the insistence and assertiveness that leaders have (Sandberg).

If you've had the opportunity to see good leadership in action, you would know that leaders are assertive, not bossy. Being assertive comes with the territory and is also a common trait for both females / males who are motivated and ambitious (and are Type A personalities). But being assertive is not the same thing as being bossy. Assertiveness comes with a purpose, but being bossy doesn't necessarily.

If having a purpose and finding success from that purpose makes me less likable, so be it. Because if everyone I meet finds me likable, then whatever I am doing probably isn't worthwhile or important enough.


What do you think?
Are success and likability negatively correlated for women and positively for men?
Does society condition some of us to resist advocating for our achievements or are these inherent qualities?