Why women need to stop worrying about being liked

Reshma Saujani is the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and author of Women Who Don’t Wait in Line.

She is the proud mother of @babyshaan and @stanleythepuppy (yes, they’re both on Twitter, and yes, Stanley is a girl). She is the first South Asian woman to run for a New York Congressional seat. And she believes her failures have ultimately brought her great success. This is Reshma’s Mentoring Moment, in her words:

It’s a cold Saturday in January 2010. I’m now officially running in the Democratic primary in New York’s Fourteenth District and today is my first appearance on a major TV network. I’m paired with two co-panelists (men, I might add) who are now yelling and ranting, barely letting the other finish their sentences before jumping in to interrupt. I’m silent. My mind is running with ideas, quick retorts, clever quips — but instead of jumping in I’m waiting patiently, politely for my turn. Suddenly, I hear the producer’s voice blast through my earpiece, “GET INTO THE FIGHT!”

I want people to see me as a leader. I don’t want to be rude and interrupt, I want to be seen as “nice.” And so I remain silent. The light clicks off and it’s over and the next segment begins.

Turns out my attempt to appear “nice” completely backfired. Later that day I watched the clip. I looked dull, weak, timid. To anyone watching, I wasn’t being nice, I was being walked over. Not exactly the image of a leader. We want leaders who will stand up for what’s right even if it means risking being liked or pleasing, and I completely blew it. From then on, I vowed to never sit quietly again. I let go of the need to be liked and started speaking my mind. This was a big moment for me because leading up to that day I always valued qualities like humility and deference, and as a woman this felt like a “natural” way to be.

Let’s be clear. There’s nothing wrong with being liked. But the desire to be liked is what can get us into trouble. This desire to be liked, whether it’s wrong or right, has a critical relationship to power. The qualities we tend to like in women (modesty, humility) are not the qualities that get professional recognition. Qualities we tend to like in men (self-confidence, assertiveness, asking directly for what you want) are the same qualities we uphold in the business world. Those are the qualities that get us ahead in our careers. Leaders don’t wait to be called on. They don’t cower when someone disagrees with them. I would argue confidence is a skill not a quality, and it’s taken me years to get comfortable ruffling some feathers.

The bitter truth is that no matter how hard you try, there will always be people out there who don’t like you. Learning to be okay with that is hard work, but you’ll like yourself so much more for it.