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The EMBABE Diaries

The thorny Issue of the Likeability Gap (more on Lean In)

on July 30, 2013

And here I am, a repeat offender: again a Guest Editor on the excellent Morning News Brief. This time, I write about what Sheryl Sandberg (yeah, I’m still not over that book) terms “the likeability gap”, i.e. the fact that success and likeability tend to be positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. As I have a bit of an issue with work-life separation, I of course immediately thought about what that means for dating, and you can read the result of that initial thought process here.

However, the article, though only published today, was actually written a while back, and in the meantime I have performed some serious research among my single friends to test my conclusions. Of course, things got a lot more interesting.

I’ve heard from female friends saying that they actually felt their professional success was what attracted men to them in the first place, but also from a friend who told a guy she’d just met that she was doing an EMBA at LBS and saw him running for his life. I’ve also asked men how they felt – not to worry, my methodology was bullet-proof, I asked guys of various ages, nationalities and stages of inebriation and I vowed to keep answers anonymous. Answers ranged from the hopeful “could be intimidating, but not a dealbreaker”, the rather less encouraging “not a problem for a date, but wouldn’t marry one”, the wonderful “my mother is a successful woman, so dealing with successful women comes naturally” (God bless the boy and his mother!) to the frank “I’m just not going to answer that question”. So there seems to be at least some hope that the likeability gap is not a complete killer in the dating game!

But what I also hope is that, sometime in the not-too-distant future, career-minded professional women can afford to make some time for their personal lives even before they become (scarily or not-so-scarily) successful. I have high hopes that Generation Y will manage to make work-life balance a “human” issue rather than a “women’s” issue, so that we can all lean in “with gusto”, as Sandberg advises, without having to give up our personal lives in the process. So here’s to work – and life!

Enjoy your holidays,



2 responses to “The thorny Issue of the Likeability Gap (more on Lean In)

  1. Sean says:

    Oooh. Very interesting. I think you need to define success a little better for us to advance this conversation.

    If by success you mean MBA’d up and climbing the corporate greasy pole, I might be less than impressed by the very orthodox view of success which you aspire to (subject to actually meeting you that is).

    However, if you founded your own green design firm and won a host of international awards, there would definitely be no likeability gap.

    • Alex Florea says:

      Thanks for your comment Sean! You raise an excellent point (and you are not alone – a good friend has actually emailed me on the same issue!). Yes, how we define success is a critical conversation we as a society need to have these days. And you are right, when it comes to how likeable a person is, how that person defines success and goes about pursuing it is probably much more relevant than that person’s gender. However, the likeability gap refers to how people perceive men versus women in identical situations, not to how we perceive a person who is, for lack of a better word, “conventionally successful” versus the same person who has decided to make the world a better place. In your own example, the likeability gap would have to do with whether you would tend to (i) like someone “climbing the greasy pole” even less if that person was a woman than if he was a guy and, (ii) conversely, really like the guy with the successful green design firm, but not so much the successful female green designer. The “definition of success” is a much bigger topic – one well worth addressing and thinking about – just not the focus of that particular article.

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