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Being 'Successful' By Breaking Gender Stereotypes

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Being 'Successful' By Breaking Gender Stereotypes

Tess Ackland

“Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.”[1]


This quote was taken from a popular 2010 TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg [2]. In my opinion, an inspiring talk worth a listen if you have 15 minutes to spare. The talk, for me, prompted some questions regarding the perception of being successful and likeable. For instance, why do women have trouble being both successful and likeable, while men don’t? Is it partially rooted within gender roles and stereotypes?

Marrianne Cooper, sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University and the lead researcher for Sheryl Sandberg’s international bestselling book, Lean In, found that women are considered less likeable as they become more successful because they challenge or force change of traditional stereotypes of women.  In other words, “high-achieving women experience social backlash because their very success – and specifically the behaviours that created that success – violates our expectations about how women are supposed to behave.”[3] 

I think most would agree that gender roles do exist. From my own experience in raising two girls, many girls are intrinsically drawn to certain toys and games while boys are quite often happier with different items.  I don’t see this natural alignment of likes and dislikes with gender as a cause for concern. The problem starts however, when these preferences become a stereotype, establishing a rigid framework or box, to define or describe what a girl or boy should be, delineate how they should act or place limitations on their potential.

There have been many campaigns to break the conventional female stereotype in support of gender equality, like for example, encouraging girls to pursue male dominated professions like engineering. These campaigns are great! They encourage self-confidence, challenge convention and promote equality. But is there a negative undercurrent attached to these ads? By encouraging only girls – and not boys – to pursue non-stereotypical roles, are we giving the impression that conventional female roles are inferior and less valuable?

I’m not advocating for stereotypical roles. I’m advocating for a balanced approach. Boys need to be encouraged to adopt “female” roles just as much as girls are encouraged to take on “male” roles. This needs to start from a young age and become a part of mainstream culture. How do we do it? Well, one of the best ways starts within the home and based on some household facts, it is easy to implement. Research conducted for Ban Bossy found that, “boys spend less time on household chores but make more money than girls. Parents often place greater value on the chores boys typically perform, like moving the lawn, than on chores that girls usually do, like folding laundry or dishwashing.”[4]  It would be quite easy to alter roles and ensure chores are valued equally.

As parents and role models to our children, our activities and contributions within the home serve another platform to break down negative stereotypes. The British Social Attitudes report on gender roles found that “women report spending an average of 13 hours on housework and 23 hours on caring for family members each week; the equivalent figures for men are 8 hours and 10 hours.”[5] The solution is quite straightforward – men, step up and take on your equal share of household duties!

In order to truly give our girls the groundwork and foundation to be happy and truly successful, the gender equality movement needs to come full-circle. It is not just about girls making the effort to change. It is about giving boys the freedom, encouragement and obligation to share in roles traditionally placed with girls. It is about highlighting that attributes traditionally aligned with females matter, are valuable and are a defining element of being ‘successful’ and ‘likeable’, regardless of the one’s gender.


Blog by, Tess Ackland

Tess is the founder and Director of ON! Juniper, a conscious lifestyle brand that supports girl empowerment through building self-awareness, health and happiness. ON! Juniper hand-makes organic + natural lip balms and bath bombs for girls.






[4] p. 6,

[5] p. 115,