I was in the bookstore this week browsing the business section when I came across these two books sitting next to each other.
One was called “Working with Bitches” and the other “The Good Girl’s Guide to Negotiating: How to Negotiate Effectively Without Being a Bitch.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I get it.
The marketing behind these books make them eye catching and interesting. Using the word “bitch” makes the titles edgy and modern. They are books written by woman for woman in attempt to tear down a stereotype by poking fun at it. I get it, and I’m not entirely offended by it.
But it did make me think of something else I recently heard that did offend me.
An experiment led by Columbia Business School and New York University professors… gave students a case study from the Harvard Business School about a successful entrepreneur, Heidi Roizen. But half of the students received the case study with one difference. “Heidi” was changed to “Howard.”
“Howard came across as a more appealing colleague,” Sandberg writes. “Heidi, on the other hand, was seen as selfish and not ‘the type of person you would want to hire or work for.’ The same data with a simple difference — gender — created vastly different impressions.”
What is worrisome about these books is that while yes, there are some tough personalities in the workplace — both male and female — woman are the ones most likely to be identified as difficult, simply because of their sex.
This excerpt comes from an NPR article Lean In: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Explains What’s Holding Women Back. I first heard this anecdote during Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.”
If you haven’t seen this TED Talk, I encourage you to take 15 minutes to watch it now (especially if you are a woman, and especially if you are a woman in business).
The speech is powerful because brings to light the sad, true fact that woman aren’t advancing in business as quickly as they should. It’s not men or society or educational institutes that are holding them back. Woman aren’t advancing in business because they are holding themselves back.
Social stigmas related to traditional gender roles (woman as homemakers and mothers) and stereotypical gender roles (assertive women as bitches) still resonate in the psyches of most woman, making it difficult for them to fight for their spot in the workplace.
So maybe I am a little annoyed at those titles I saw in the bookstore. While searching for books that will help me advance and grow in the workplace (Good to Great, Linchpin, Delivering Happiness), I was reminded: as a woman, I will have a few other books on my reading list. While it won’t be any books with bitch in the title, I will need Sandberg’s Lean In and other books like it.
But more importantly I realized, no matter how hard us woman try to be sweet and nice and successful — someone is going to end up thinking we are bitches… and that shouldn’t slow us down one bit.
Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. I can’t wait to read her new book Lean In: Woman, Work, and the Will to Lead.