Recently I have been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead and her words almost give me chills as they reach out and speak to women everywhere about how to overcome obstacles that most females face in the workplace. Her chapters each discuss either a common barrier or obstacle that most women face in today’s workforce and how to overcome them. I’m sure you will find that my next few posts will encompass some of the high point’s of Sheryl’s poignant writing.

While reading chapter three: “Success and Likeability” I felt myself chuckling…it almost felt like Sheryl was saying “Malissa, do you hear me yet?” The beginning of the chapter begins to describe the “Heidi and Howard” experiment where two case studies were presented about a male and a female: both cases involved the business success of equally competent real life entrepreneurs. The irony was that the cases were EXACTLY THE SAME, the only difference was that one was female, Heidi and the other male, Howard. When the students were polled about which one would seem like a better colleague, majority of the students polled voted that they would rather work with Howard and that Heidi was seen as selfish. Ironic…the SAME EXACT personality, background, competency yet Heidi was undesirable as a coworker. Ms. Sandberg then writes that the experiment supports the unspoken understanding that “when a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less”(40). She also writes that “for women, even when they’re recognized for their achievements they’re often regarded unfavorably”(4).

I read her words and my mind immediately raced to December of this past year at our Battalion Ball’s DeFleury Ceremony. For those that do not know, the DeFleury is a distinguished honor awarded to members of the Engineer Regiment that have served as distinguished members of the regiment for their valor and actions while an Engineer. When my name was the first called to receive the Steel DeFleury, there were few to no claps…immediately after me came three other recipients, all male, two of which were my peers from two sister companies…all received ovations from their soldiers. I stood there as my Battalion Commander presented me with me the honor of the steel DeFleury and all I could think was “everyone in this room hates me and no one thinks I deserve this…” Unfortunately, after listening to the rumblings coming from my peers, it turned out that some of my hesitation was actually true…my peers were talking garbage about me and my achievements. Instead of feeling a sense of reward and accomplishment, I was immediately knocked off my horse.

In the same chapter of her book, Ms. Sandberg wrote ” in order to protect ourselves from being disliked, we question our abilities and downplay our achievements, especially in the presence of others. We put ourselves down before others can”(41). I think she was talking about me at that moment, I’m almost sure that was the case haha. She suggests that in situations like this, when we know that we will be on the receiving end of criticism for our hard work, we should refer to the following advice: ” we should let ourselves react emotionally and feel whatever anger or sadness being criticized evokes for us. And then we should quickly move on”(49-50).

This is exactly what I did, I let it brew, it probably didn’t help that I did celebrate a little with a glass or two of wine which exacerbated my sadness, but later that night I was up and around dancing and having a ball. I know that I can’t change people’s perceptions, especially those of females in military, but I can control my own reactions and how I move forward from the critics’ remarks. I remain a hard worker, nothing has changed, and I know that I will not be liked by everyone, especially because I am insistent, passionate and motivated: I do not coddle my subordinates or my peers with niceness…only when I know a little sugar will get me the next piece of information I need.

Girls in Green…read Ms. Sandberg’s book…it is worth your while.