The Likeability Trap | Alicia Menendez

Summary of: The Likeability Trap: How to Break Free and Succeed As You Are
By: Alicia Menendez


In ‘The Likeability Trap: How to Break Free and Succeed As You Are’, Alicia Menendez discusses the difficulties women face in balancing likeability and authenticity in professional environments. She highlights the double standards women encounter in the workplace, from cultural expectations that restrain their emotions to biases that hinder opportunities for advancement. She also explores the portrayals of gender, race, and ethnicity in relation to likeability. By the end, readers will understand the challenges women face due to these conflicting demands and gain insights into how to resist the cultural constraints that hold them back.

The Likeability Dilemma

Women who show strength in the male-dominated business world are often perceived as unlikeable. Authenticity and effectiveness are necessary for leadership, but competing demands put women in a bind. The requirement to present yourself authentically is even more challenging for those whose identities don’t align with the majority culture. The more successful a woman becomes, the less likeable she appears. The more she demonstrates strength, the more people question her leadership capabilities and assume negative motives. It seems that warmth, a crucial attribute for likeability, is seen as weakness in the business world.

Liberating Women

The book challenges the notion that people can control how they are perceived by others and highlights how biases around gender and ethnicity impact likeability. The author cautions against asking women to change to fit cultural expectations and instead advocates for a reimagining of leadership. Women should not have to compromise their authentic selves and should work together to break cultural constraints holding them back. By shifting focus to the work accomplished rather than how it’s accomplished, they can expand society’s understanding of leadership. The solution lies in empowering women to resist and reshape cultural norms, not just in asking them to care less.

The Cost of Conforming

Women and marginalized groups face difficult decisions around conforming to stereotypes or standing out to be seen as authentic. This often leads to a performative display of warmth and likeability that is not a true representation of their self. Those who deviate from gender, race or ethnicity stereotypes tend to be seen as incompetent or unlikeable. The result is constant emotional labor to avoid stereotyping and workplace bias which drains energy from doing great work. Half of US employees acknowledge minimizing aspects of their identities to fit in with the accepted workplace norms, leading to a false sense of inclusion and belonging.

The Success Penalty for Women

The success penalty for women is when they become less likeable for displaying ambition and self-promotion. Women who take credit for their achievements are seen as insufficiently modest and less likeable, making it difficult for them to win jobs. Negotiating better salary and contract terms also makes them less likeable and increases the likelihood of rejection. Acting entitled to equal treatment and behaving dominantly also incurs a likeability penalty.

However, ambition is a sign of resilience, especially for Black women who cannot afford to be wishy-washy about their goals. They see leadership as an opportunity to reshape their field, influence those in positions of authority, and empower themselves and others. Unapologetic ambition is essential for their success.

The book emphasizes that the success penalty for women sets in before they even achieve success. Onlookers often view women’s ambition and actions as a demerit, with hiring criteria becoming less about skills and more about social presentation. The book suggests that the system needs to change, not the women, and encourages women to continue to pursue their aspirations despite the obstacles they may face.

Women in Politics

Women seeking public office face amplified double-binds and paradoxical expectations around likeability and competence. Confidence is key, but media evaluations of their appearance can undermine their credibility and effectiveness. Male candidates, on the other hand, do not suffer the same demerits. Women who declare themselves fit for office are perceived as making a “power grab,” even if their goal is public service. The traits that demonstrate confidence in women include relatability, self-deprecating humor, the ability to tell stories, and the willingness to share credit for successes.

Authenticity vs. Social Media

Women with high social media profiles often face abuse and trolling, making it challenging to be authentic. Most women choose to stay true to themselves despite the risks involved. Social media rewards people for showing only popular aspects of themselves, causing them to hide important parts. It’s risky for most women to be true to themselves in the social media sphere. To negotiate this trade-off, women must create breathing space between their public and private lives or only reveal their full selves to those they know and trust.

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