Success Can Come at a Price for Women

Gender stereotypes hold women back from climbing the ladder to success at work, according to the COO of Facebook. Sheryl Sandberg believes; “As a woman becomes successful, she is less liked, and as a man becomes more successful, he is more liked.”

Would you agree with this assertion?

As a woman working in a highly competitive, male-oriented industry for almost three decades, I am all too familiar to gender stereotypes. I have met executives and directors (male and female) who assume certain roles for each gender. To this day, I find it remarkable that people could be judged based on their sex rather than their ability.


A successful professional woman is often described with superwoman-esque skills – balancing a hectic work life working 10-12 hour days, raising a family, maintaining a social life and somehow managing to hold it altogether. I am a living example of this being possible, albeit paddling madly underwater most of the time with excess uses of sticky-tape holding it all together, and an occasional sense of humour failure!

However a successful professional man is described as a workaholic who is swamped under work for most of the sociable hours of the day. Why is a successful man not questioned over his domestic or social life? These expectations are very much gender stereotyped.

Gender stereotypes

In my experience as a Director of Coaching, I have found ambitious and assertive women can be perceived as “aggressive” or “unapproachable” by some of their peers. It always amuses me that a woman who has toughened up against a male-oriented world is seen as some sort of ice queen.

Take Margaret Thatcher for example. If she had not come across as ruthless and determined, would she have been taken seriously? Likewise for Hilary Clinton in the USA; she is considered a force not to be reckoned with. Why do these intelligent women have to be portrayed in a negative light to be recognised?

UK versus Europe

As you may have read in my earlier post; The Rise of Entrepreneurial Women, the number of female business owners has doubled since 1979, accounting for a quarter of the UK’s self-employed. Could this be as a result of women failing to reach corporate ladders, thus opting to establish their own company?

I have also previously written about the European Commission’s (EC) push for listed companies to guarantee 40% of board members are women by 2020, in Time to Man Up Over Diversity in the Boardroom. This is after the EC found European boardrooms are improving the representation of women from 13.7% in 2011 to 15.8% last year. However, the UK is still lagging behind its neighbours to get skilled women at the top of corporate ranks.

Corporate shake-up

It is time we discard all stereotypes associated with men and women and acknowledge individuals by merit. Being a woman doesn’t automatically mean you are a pro at multi-tasking. Likewise, being a man doesn’t automatically render you invincible in a competitive world.

Promotion and position should be considered by skills, experience and ability. These are the foundations of successful men and women.

Kind regards

Laura Ashley-Timms - Director of Coaching