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How to Be Respected as a Woman in Leadership

For one of my classes this semester, we were told to read a book about leadership. I chose “The Likeability Trap” by Alicia Menendez which analyzes the challenges and barriers women face in leadership roles, specifically in a work setting. There are so many qualities that make a good leader, but people tend to think that the best leaders are respected by their colleagues and also have a well-liked personality. As a woman, Menendez explains why it’s hard to have both qualities. She describes the situation as a seesaw, you can be well-liked but not respected or you can be respected but not well-liked. Menendez shares her stories and conversations with other women which exhibit why women in power are seen as cold but women that are warm and motherly are seen as weak and not leadership material. It feels impossible to harness all the good leadership qualities as a woman due to societal norms, but we need to understand there is no set checklist for qualities in a leader. You should become a leader due to hard work, unique characteristics, good ideas, and many other qualities that make you special. Although we have taken steps as a society towards changing these “norms” (shoutout to Kamala Harris, Sonia Sotomayor, Condoleezza Rice, and Michelle Obama to name a few), we still have so much work to do.


Whether it’s in a school or work setting, being a leader (on at least one task) is inevitable. You need to be able to step up to the plate, assign tasks, get things done, be organized, all while being nice, friendly, approachable, and not confrontational. I don’t see men being held to these unspoken standards, so why should we? It seems as if men don’t need to be nice and friendly all the time as leaders, but the second a woman is not seen as the “friendliest person on the planet” then she is ridiculed and people talk behind her back (even by other women I’ve noticed). We need to stop idealizing the thought that women have to be well-liked by everyone to achieve their goals or hold higher positions. There are millions of women that work very hard and make their way into their positions because they deserve it, not because they were a motherly figure to all their colleagues. Being well-liked and friendly is not the only good quality in a leader, there are many other strong qualities that a woman can possess to be a good leader.

After reading this book and reflecting on my own leadership skills, I remembered several situations where I had to fight between being liked and respected. In one of my past jobs, I worked my way up to being a manager. My colleagues and I were friends before I got into this position, making some situations awkward. For example, if I started to assign daily tasks, I got this look that exemplified, “Are you really going to make me do this?” I remembered I had to play up my other skills that made these situations less awkward but also gained their respect for me. I want to say I didn’t care if they liked me (but I did a little bit), but most importantly I wanted to gain their respect. I showed my colleagues that I worked just as hard as they did and would help in any situation they needed me. I felt that this tactic was successful in my position and felt a good bond with my team, which made me feel respected. My suggestion to being a good leader would be to always be open to feedback, try new ideas frequently, communicate with your team members, and always be yourself. On top of these personal suggestions, society needs to understand that women’s roles in society are changing and they are becoming leaders in all fields. People need to encourage women to challenge themselves to hold higher positions and that if you aren’t well-liked by everyone that’s okay, but by being yourself and working hard you will become a respected leader.

Aloha! My name is Keilyn and I am a Graduate Student studying Public Health at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. I enjoy going to the beach, reading mystery books, cooking, and playing with my puppy, Kaiba! I love being on the HER Campus Hawaii Team and sharing my stories!
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