Opinion: We know for a fact due to the numerous reports that Women are underrepresented as business leaders and when you look at this category in isolation I believe there are a few reasons why.
Likeability and Familiarity:
People form strong relationships together due to the things they have in common. In other words if that person is similar to me, then I will be more inclined to like that person and therefor I will be more agreeable to their requests and this is the likeability factor.
I’ll give you an example, say the boss of a company is into football and if you share that similar interest then at some point you are bound to have a conversation about it. Now this will open up dialogue and make it much easier to converse. For example a Monday morning conversation could go like this. “Hey, what did you think about the game on the weekend…” [insert response here], then it would move onto something business related. Now the boss is open and they are more familiar with you so your likeability increases ever so slightly that the boss will be more agreeable to your requests. The boss is now more certain of you as you are similar to him and that certainty provides a foundation for building a strong relationship.
So in the above scenario what happens if you don’t like football and the boss does? Well first off you don’t have that conversation about the game and you may look for other topics to discuss and where there is no similar interest outside of business you will then fall back on the common goal of the business and that can end up being quite dry and boring. What I’m leading to is that Men and Women on average have different interest and that because of this the likeability is much more difficult for women and therefor harder to get ahead and harder to get into leadership positions.
Now the problem with relationships in business is that likeability and common interests are very useful. A lot of sales representatives and business leaders hang their hats on their relationships with their employees or clients but there are potential problematic scenarios.
For instance, in some leadership roles you are required to wine and dine prospective clients and employees but what if you don’t drink alcohol? Well that can be a problem as many business dealings are done over drinks and dinner and it will hold you back and more so in an industry which is male dominated as Men on average drink more than Women. Now this is also amplified with the footy season as well, so once again if you don’t like drinking and you don’t like footy then your likeability decreases and the relationship are harder to build.
Both people in the relationship will see this trend forming and put you in a category. Overtime this may stop the relationship developing particularly in a situation where there are willing colleagues who are already doing this (your competition) which portrays you as different within that group.
If people are uncertain they will look for signs of familiarity particularly other people to get certainty. This could mean closed door round table discussions at board rooms. For example, in a hiring process an internal applicant is being discussed. Board room members would say what do you think about person X as a potential business leader? What dealings have you had, etc.
Someone could vouch for that person and you might wonder why would they do that? Well for one because of the likeability factors mentioned in the first two paragraphs and that may be all that is needed to separate one applicant from the rest. Now no applicant has visibility on hiring discussions or decisions so this can be hard to determine, you would need to have an understanding of the people and what they are looking for in an candidate.
There are some other factors that come in to play restricting women as business leaders and they are likeability factors such as personality, (e.g. openness and extroversion), intelligence, consciousness, physical attractiveness, clothing and appearance. Now intelligence and consciousness is a quality everyone can have and you can influence and develop this as well, but not everyone can change their appearance or personality and this is where we need to be more understanding of other people.
What can you do?
So if you’re a Man in a position of power what can you do? Responsibility is the key here. First you need to recognise that people are different and you may not have things in common so don’t let your opinion of people hold others back. Also understand liking someone may compromise your decision making process which may not be in the business interest. You and you’re potential employee have a common goal to forward the business objectives and you need to find the best person for the job.
What can women do, well if you want to advance yourself then you can play the game, understand the psychology of Men and what they like and play to those strengths. If you don’t have an interest in footy but the boss does you could develop an interest in these categories but just be careful you are not disingenuous as if you are caught this may lead to distrust which may be irreversible.