Chairwoman and CEO at IBM
Virginia “Ginni” Rometty is the first woman to head the company and is the current Chairman and CEO of IBM. Rometty is credited with championing IBM’s growth strategy by shifting them into cloud computing and analytics businesses.
Interestingly, Rometty was offered a “big job” early in her career, but told the recruiter she had to think it over because she worried she might not have the proper experience. When she discussed the offer with her husband, he pointed out, “do you think a man would ever have answered that question that way?” There’s two takeaways from this. One, you know more than you give yourself credit for, so always be confident. And two – as Sandberg puts it – make your partner a real partner. Equality on all fronts (for men and women at work and at home) is key. Had she not discussed this opportunity with her partner, she may not be where she is today.
This example really struck a chord with me because it is something I think about all of the time: the fact that women often have a lot more knowledge and experience than we give ourselves credit for. It is pretty clear that in our society women who appear overly humble are often regarded more favorably than women who express confidence in themselves. Confidence almost always gets equated with being “b*tchy” or “cold” and so when seen that way, it’s not surprising that many women tend to shy away from promoting their own capabilities to the same degree that a man would. When put in situations where they are asked to do something of which they are fully capable, I often hear some of my other female friends make remarks like “well, I need more experience to do that” or “here is how I would do it but I’m not an expert or anything.”
Why do we often second guess ourselves and question our qualifications? Why do we insist on convincing ourselves we can’t do something?
I believe part of it is fear. I think the other part, though, is this learned behavior to constantly remain humble. It’s “not feminine” to tout our capabilities and excessively promote ourselves. Oftentimes, people tend to focus more on likability when it comes to women rather than respect. You want your boss to like you. You want your teammates to like you. You want your professor to like you. It’s much easier to get people to like you when you make them believe you don’t think you deserve the things you earned to get to where you are. But likability does not equal respect. In our society, a man doesn’t need to care if he’s liked, he only cares about gaining respect. When a women tries to emulate that, she gets called a “b*tch.” Thus, being “liked” seems like the next best thing. We can still seemingly get to where we want to go just by being liked…to an extent. Being liked only takes you so far. When a woman gets to a point where she needs to assert herself, people are suddenly a lot less receptive to her and her likability gets reduced. It’s a very difficult transition but that also seems to be the moment when respect is gained.
I’m not saying a person can’t be liked and respected at the same time. What I am saying is that we should stop caring and continue forging ahead anyway. Most people will like you if you do things from the heart and they will respect you if you assert yourself and demonstrate your knowledge without questioning yourself. You’ll always face resistance but pushing past resistance builds more self-confidence and helps you gain even more respect. Someone not liking you is not the end all be all, even in the corporate world.
This is something we have to remind ourselves of often because it can be very easy and safe to fall back into the habit of just wanting to be liked. The next time you get offered an opportunity to do something greater than what you are doing now, instead of seeing it as “I don’t have enough experience to do that yet,” try seeing it as: "This opportunity wouldn’t have been offered to me if those providing it didn’t respect me or think I could do it. I know I can do it and I’ll take it."