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Women need to start believing that they’re fabulous – then we’ll start to see change

This is an unusual sight in business. Women are more likely to sit at the side of the room. The number one rule to be successful is to sit at the table. Shutterstock

Women in 2015 have to admit they are lucky. They don’t live in the world that their mothers or grandmothers lived in where career choices for women were limited. Most have grown up in a world where they have had basic human rights.

But, amazingly, some still don’t have these rights. And women are still not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world.

Why is this still the case?

I would like to challenge every woman and ask: what would you be if you had no fear? To answer this, I will focus on the message from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s award-winning book Lean In, which is a guide to her success.

Sit at the table

Sandberg focuses on, among others, three things women need to do to be successful. Number one is to sit at the table. Women sometimes sit at the side of the room. The problem with this is that it shows what the research shows: women systematically underestimate their own abilities.

Most importantly, men attribute their success to themselves, and women attribute it to other external factors. If you ask men why they did a good job, they’ll say:

I’m good. Obviously. Why are you even asking?

If you ask women why they did a good job, what they’ll say is someone helped them, they got lucky or they worked really hard.

Women need to remember that no-one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side (not at the table). No-one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve their success, or if they don’t even understand their own success.

Research shows that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. So, women need to remind themselves that they are fabulous. They need to believe in themselves and negotiate for themselves. They need to own their own success.

Heidi versus Howard

A famous Harvard Business School study highlights the challenges women face simply because they are women. A woman named Heidi Roizen worked for a company in Silicon Valley and used her contacts to become a very successful venture capitalist.

A case study was written about her success. In 2002, a professor at Columbia University gave the case study to two groups of students. In one version he had changed Heidi Roizen’s name to Howard Roizen. Changing “Heidi” to “Howard”, it turned out, made a really big difference.

The responses from the students was instructive. The good news was that the students, both men and women, thought Heidi and Howard were equally competent. The bad news was that everyone liked Howard. He was a great guy, the kind you would want to work for and spend the day fishing. When it came to Heidi they were less sure.

This is the complication. We live in a world in which daughters are told that to be successful they will have to sacrifice. It is not the advice meted out to their brothers.

Sandberg’s second idea is to make your partner a real partner.

If a woman works full time and has a child and her partner is not a real partner, she will do twice the amount of work if she does all the housework and three times the amount if she does all the childcare than her partner does. She gets to do two or possibly three jobs, while her partner gets to do one. This is avoided only if your partner is a “real partner”.

Don’t lean back

Sandberg’s third message is: don’t leave before you leave. When woman are starting to lean back they do not look for a promotion or to take on a new project. Women are focused on other needs and not their work far too early, and “leave” before they actually leave.

In South Africa, a study published last year on the factors influencing career success in business showed that family responsibility and the lack of appropriate role models and mentors were the most prominent barriers to career success. Numbers may not soon change at the top.

This generation won’t get to the point where women are at the top of any industry. But I’m hopeful that future generations can.

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