Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

The following guest post is from the Nicest WomanOfScience I know.  I am not kidding. She is actually sweet. She sympathizes with friends while explaining the other side to help you understand. She is a fantastic mentor and friend. When I asked her about the Likeability ≈ 1/Success, here is what she had to say:

After my experiences over the past few years, I feel like there is not much you can do to counteract this effect. You can be as sweet as pie and act completely non-aggressively, and there are still those who will begrudge you your success and dislike you for it. (I have to say, some senior women tried to tell me this when I was younger, and I did not believe them – I thought maybe that was just their experience, and I did not believe it until it happened to me). I think I am a relatively nice and mild-mannered person, and I really tried very hard over the last few years to preserve relationships with people I worked with and not get bitchy in meetings and interactions with others. But there are just some people that do not like me for no good reason, other than the fact that I refuse to crawl into a hole and die. Why do these people dislike me? I do not scream and yell in meetings, and I’m pretty nice to them when I pass them in the hallways. I just come in every day and do my work, and I am pretty good at it, and that seems to infuriate them. And I’m not going to stop doing that. I love my work, and why should I let these people take that away from me? And why should I let them change the kind of person that I am?

So it IS difficult to be “liked” if you are successful. Until the culture changes (and I believe it is changing, but slowly), I think the most we can hope for is that those around us and working for us respect our work and respect the way we conduct ourselves. I have found this kind of respect engenders a sort of loyalty, even when someone does not “like” you. Maybe they don’t like you, but what can they really say against you? What substantive criticisms can they really put forward?

This sounds depressing, but in a way, if you accept this, it makes things much easier. Why do we want to be “liked” anyway? We have our friends and family who like us, and that may make work a little lonely, but not unbearable. If some subset of your colleagues or students are never going to like you anyway, then you do not have to put effort into be likeable. All you can do is (1) keep on doing work that you are proud of, and (2) conduct yourself in a manner that you can be proud of, whatever that is. If it comes naturally to you to be nice, be nice. If it comes naturally to you to be more aggressive, be more aggressive. Just keep on doing your thing.

See? Isn’t she nice? I told you so. Do you have a comment or guest post on this topic? If so, hope to hear from you!

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