In our last blog, we shared the two reasons most women say they inadvertently apologise for what they have to say, and we explored the first reason a little more – the impact that imposter syndrome has on what we say and write.

The second reason is the desire to be liked.

Of course we want to be liked. We want to be polite and courteous, and we want to enjoy harmonious working relationships. That’s human nature – and we spend an awful lot of time with our colleagues, after all.


But for women specifically, both in business and in the workplace, there may a deeper issue to consider.  It’s called a ‘double bind’ and it’s the conflict in which professional women are considered likeable or competent – but rarely both.

The American businesswoman (and former CEO of Hewlett Packard), Carly Fiorina, summed up this double bind of being liked OR respected in very simple terms: “I’m either a bitch or a bimbo.”

We know that for women who are working within the double bind, communication gets more complex.

For example, asking for a pay rise may be judged as pushy whereas a man in the same position is simply seen as naturally assertive. In a race for promotion, it is still common for the female candidate to be seen as a self-promoter or aggressive, while the male candidate is simply ambitious and progressive.

Research into business culture and behaviour tells us that a woman expressing anger in the workplace damages her reputation, while a man in the same situation is actually seen as stronger for it.

Of course, we’re not saying this happens everywhere. Honestly, I’ve worked in or with organisations that are thankfully light years away from this gender bias…but I’ve also worked in or with organisations where I see women – at all levels – having to temper their behaviour and their language to accommodate it.


Those who are forced to operate within the double bind know that if they speak with authority, they may attract labels such as “bossy” and “ball-breaker” and are less liked in the workplace.

But if they try to counteract this with softer language, they may find themselves better liked in the workplace, but their talent and experience may not be properly recognised. As we saw in our previous blog, these women are giving away their power and lessening their personal impact.

Most heart-breaking of all is this – in both cases, many women feel obliged to choose between two roles in order to address the double bind. But in reality they are really likeable AND hands-down competent! And how can that combination be anything but brilliant news for their team, their employer, their business?

As with any gender bias or inequality, we firmly believe that the best and the fastest progress will be made when leaders and legislators drive cultural change AND women in the workplace communicate their value with confidence and skill.

We can all make a difference…

Let us know what you think about this. Comment below, come and join the conversation on our Facebook page, and please share this with the fabulous professional women you know.

Until next week,

Lucy & Emma

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