As a retired businesswoman I couldn’t wait to read #Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In“, the New York Times’ best seller full of advice for working women. Sandberg joined Facebook as Chief Operating Officer in August 2013 after six years as Vice-President of Google Inc. I must admit up front that I approached the book with a bit of prejudice. I assumed she was a silver-spoon Type A über-achiever who expects other women to be as motivated and capable as she is. While the lady definitely had the advantage of starting out on second base, she knows what she’s talking about in relation to gender issues in the workplace, office politics and the general dynamic surrounding working women. Andshe does not expect other women to be as ambitious as she is.
Although the book contains plenty of interesting anecdotal information to back her up, it supported to by an exceptionally large body of research. In fact, fully one-third of the volume of the book (I read it on my iPad) is a bibliography of resource and reference material. Her research skills (or those of her assistants) are indeed impressive, even tedious. While I was prepared to question the authenticity of her observations, I found myself agreeing on most issues. In my earlier blogs I have written about similar issues and have plans in the future to address more in my “Take my advice” postings. https://boomerbroadcast.net/2013/11/23/take-my-advice-and-live- happily-ever-after/ and https://boomerbroadcast.net/2013/12/17/take-my-advice-2/
For example, Sandberg says:
1. “Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.” I agree that our fear of failure or not measuring up often keeps us from taking risks, putting our name forward for a promotion, raise or new job. There is a shocking degree of mediocrity among the male senior executives of many corporations while capable women sit on the sidelines lacking the confidence to go for it.
2. “One reason women avoid stretch assignments is that they worry too much about whether they currently have the skills they need for a new role. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, since so many abilities are acquired on the job. An internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100% of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60% of the requirements.” When I was appointed Marketing Manager I wasn’t sure what the position even meant. It was a new position within the company so I had to opportunity to create and develop the job on my own. In the beginning I made up for my lack of experience with enthusiasm. One of the first things I did was make an appointment with The Globe and Mail to go down and meet with one of their business writers so they could “open a file” on our company. That resulted in a full spread about our firm on the front page of the business section. Quite a coup for a novice and gave me a solid running start. The flip side is naiveté. Many business women forge ahead and succeed because they don’t know about or don’t consider the possibility of failure, or do not consider the lack of experience being a problem. Other more practical reasons women may avoid stretch assignments is because they simply do not have the extra hours in the day required to fulfill the demands.
3. “It’s not only working parents who are looking for more hours in the day; people without children are also overworked, maybe to an even greater extent. When I was in business school, I attended a Women in Consulting panel with three speakers: two married women with children and one single woman without children. After the married women spoke about how hard it is to balance their lives, the single woman interjected that she was tired of people not taking her need to have a life seriously. She felt that her colleagues were always rushing off to be with their families, leaving her to pick up the slack”. Sheryl Sandberg is admittedly in the enviable position of being able to afford plenty of domestic help in the form of nannies and housekeepers to handle domestic issues. Not everyone has this advantage. I never had children and often felt that with the hours I spent commuting and working in the office or traveling for business, there was simply no time left to throw children into the mix. It’s easy to feel resentful when you’re working your fanny off and colleagues in the office are working on their children’s school projects. That’s life and it’s not always fair.
4. “I sometimes struggled to pass the “fitting in” test.” She’s not alone and describes smoking cigars and going on fishing trips as part of feeling accepted. I recall attending an industry “stag night” with hundreds of construction professionals at a convention centre. I could easily have by-passed the event but wanted to attend on principle – to demonstrate that the industry was not for men only. There was only one other woman in attendance. To the best of my knowledge, that business association no longer has stag nights; they have another name for the event and a number of women in the business attend. I also once accompanied several male co-workers to a gentlemen’s club (aka strip club) where my co-workers sat in the front row. I’m not sure what point I was trying to make that night but as one of the few female managers at my company, I guess I wanted to be seen as one of the boys – rightly or wrongly. I have since learned that such measures are not necessary nor particularly appropriate.
Women bring a special dynamic to the management scene. We cannot all be Sheryl Sandbergs nor do we want to be. Her version of a stressful workplace/family conflict is discovering her daughter has head lice while flying to a corporate event in a private jet. Not easy to empathize or sympathize. She needs to suffer the stresses single working mothers or low-income women experience every day of their lives trying to do the best for themselves and their families while working full-time.
I do agree with her, however, that the incremental strides the women’s movement has made for improving equality in the workplace should not be taken for granted or considered as less of a priority. Within the time-line of my own career I have seen things get better but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Whatever changes are made to better accommodate the work/life balance ultimately benefits both men and women. Maternity leave has been matched by paternity leave. While it may seem like equality on the surface, it’s not perfect. Both men and women experience challenges returning to work, finding they’ve lost their place in line and have to scramble to make up for lost time. Young parents today are not willing to make the sacrifices in their family lives they witnessed their own parents, the baby boomers making. Ultimately, while we want all working people to have a happy, balanced personal/work life, we also need businesses to succeed in order to sustain those jobs. The bottom lines are what keep businesses viable.
Gender issues in the workplace were also addressed by Beyoncé this week on Maria Shriver’s website if you want to check it out. http://shriverreport.org/gender-equality-is-a-myth-beyonce/
“#Lean In” is certainly a controversial issue worth discussing. I enjoyed reading it and despite my earlier prejudices I’d give it a thumbs up.