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Skydiving and The Likability Trap

Pic Taken from Alicia Menendez’s Insta: @aliciamenendezxo

I just read the Likeability Trap by Alicia Menendez and it has me pondering, both about work and skydiving. I find myself always tumbling down these rabbit holes wondering “How does work actually work?”, “How is my career going?”, “What effect does who I am make on what I’m trying to get done?” (and some days when I’m frustrated, “Does the work I’m doing even matter?”).

I like a phrase that I learned at Thoughtworks during regular retrospectives: “How are we going?”. It encapsulates an interesting question. Not “How are you/how are we?”, not “Are we meeting our goals?” but instead, it asks for a reflection on the road we’re taking to get to where we’re going. Is our path rocky? Are we hitting bumps that we can smooth out to alleviate the toil we feel on the daily?

My interest in the fluffy, squishy part of work is what leads me to reading books like The Likeability Trap.

What is this book?

It explores the delicate balance that women have to walk in their careers between being likable and being successful, being warm and being strong, being authentic and being the person that the corporate world expects you to be.

In depth, it covers a few different ideas…

  • The Goldilocks Conundrum: The situation where women are either too warm, and therefore not a good fit for leadership, because it’s expected that being warm means you can’t get things done, or you are too strong, which is “unnatural” for a woman, because people expect women to be warm and nurturing. In short, if you’re perceived as too soft, you can’t lead. If you’re too much of a perceived b****, you can’t lead. It seems like women can’t win
  • Likability and Authenticity as Luxuries: Simply, it’s much easier to fit in in the workplace if you’re white, if you’re cis, basically, if you’re part of the majority. A white, cis woman has fewer hurdles in the workplace. Assumptions made based on stereotypes about ethnicity and race add additional barriers to minorities becoming leaders, whether that’s those of different races, with different gender identities or those with disabilities. Privilege plays into the likability game and whether or not we feel safe to be our authentic selves at work.
  • Success Penalty: The book describes the success penalty saying “The more successful you become, the less others like you”. This phenomenon happens when women even attempt to be successful, when they make a “power grab”.

Why is all this the case? Because we all have implicit biases. They are deeply ingrained into society and it takes a concerted and focused effort to subvert them.

So, what? What does this have to do with skydiving?

Well, it has everything to do with being a women in skydiving that’s trying to be a leader. If we’re set on making 2020 the year of the woman skydiver, we better assume that they’re going to work their way into leadership. In fact, there’s a lot of them already there. I know a lot of women that are coaches, instructors, that run manifest and coordinate boogies and organize leagues.

But what price did they pay to get there? Are they struggling with the likability trap? Skydiving, like tech, is a male dominated industry. Do the women in leadership in skydiving have to balance being likable and being successful? Yes, yes they do, sometimes in very visible ways. I have never met or heard of a female coach that’s a jerk; I have heard of plenty of male coaches that are. Probably in less visible ways as well. Do I penalize other women for being successful? I like to think that I try my best to support women in their endeavors. How can I be better? I’ve certainly felt penalized for being successful in the sport, sometimes specifically by other women. It’s well-known that skydiving isn’t a diverse sport; how are we making it harder for those that don’t look like us to be successful? Do we put too much of an emphasis on being likable in this sport, when being safe, or experienced, or hardworking, or other things might be more important?

I’m not sure.

I don’t always feel nice. I try to be welcoming and encouraging. I also try to be honest. My natural tendency is to be skeptical and sometimes critical. Maybe that’s not nice. Maybe it is.

What am I getting at exactly? I’m not totally sure. I just hope that maybe we think about some of these questions. I hope we’re nicer to each other. More importantly, I hope women stop getting penalized for their success.

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