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As a woman who has had her own experience of climbing the corporate career ladder and with a personal passion for helping other women leaders succeed, I was very excited to hear of the “Lean In” launch earlier this year. I was pleasantly surprised to see all the excitement, group discussions and even controversy (which show you people are slowing down to think!) around the topics Sheryl Sandberg discusses. After attending and starting some Lean In circles I am personally committed that such good subject matter does not go to waste.
A woman or man (I have given it to several of our male executive clients) who reads Lean In will be aware of the experiences and reality so many working women face, however reading the book alone does not turn that learning into action. However keeping this discussion alive and having group discussions will help us “lean in” more often. It is a great opportunity for healthy debate and to share our wisdom and experience with women with diverse backgrounds. Our goal at these Lean In circles and book clubs is to turn that thinking in to action that will work for you.
So as many of you may have read Lean In a few months ago I have gathered some expert perspectives (as well as some of my own) to provide some key points for you to review and ponder. You can use this to prepare for our event. I look forward to an intellectual and stimulating discussion on how we can learn from each other new ways to “lean in” for meaningful action and results to propel our career purpose and short-term goals. Enjoy!
1. It’s incredibly difficult to manage both career and motherhood. In the book’s opening anecdote, Sandberg describes what a tough time she had while pregnant with her first child. She gained 70 pounds, her feet swelled two shoe sizes and she vomited every day for nine months. I read this and I thought immediately, she gets it, I have been in her shoes and if she can succeed then so can I.
2. She considers herself a feminist who benefits from the struggles of those who battled for women’s rights. “We stand on the shoulders of the women who came before us, women who had to fight for the rights that we now take for granted,” she writes. This is true and while a lot of that may have happened before your time it is great to Google some key milestones and have conversations with your mother and aunts to hear their diverse perspectives and experience.
3. Men still run the world! Sandberg marshals plenty of statistics to support this fact, including:
However we also need to be aware that globally women controlled an est. $20 trillion in annual consumer spending in 2009 and that figure was expected to climb by 2014 to $28. This equates to almost twice their income (HBR).
4. She gets it about women’s compensation. Though it used to be worse, in 1970 American women made 59 cents for every dollar men earned and it’s still bad. In 2010, women earned just 77 cents for every dollar men made. Her solution: negotiate like a man. When she was talking to Mark Zuckerberg about joining Facebook, she says she was inclined to accept the first offer he made. But after encouragement she made a counter-offer and it worked. Know your value!
5. She believes the feminist revolution has stalled. Sandberg writes extensively about the barriers women still face in the workplace, including “blatant and subtle sexism, discrimination and sexual harassment.” She underlines the importance of workplace flexibility and the need for accessible childcare and parental leave policies. She also notes a 2011 McKinsey study showing that while men are promoted based on potential, women get a leg up based on past accomplishments. Quite a significant difference?
6. She argues that internal obstacles hold women back (including a desire to be liked). This is the meat and the controversy in the book and the point that has stirred criticism among other feminists. She says that women keep themselves from advancing because they don’t have the self-confidence and drive that men do. “We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve,” she writes.
While I believe that personal motivation is an incredibly complex and unique thing and that there is a unique path for each of us (man or woman), we do see a trend of lower levels of confidence in women versus men, even with our Churchill clients.
Sandberg cites more than a dozen studies that underline the obstacles women face. One of the most compelling, though 10 years old, still rings true. She calls it the Howard/Heidi study. Two professors wrote up a case study about a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen, describing how she became a successful venture capitalist by relying on her outgoing personality and huge personal and professional network. The professors had a group of students read Roizen’s story with her real name and another group read the story with the name changed to “Howard.” Then the students rated Howard and Heidi on their accomplishments and on how appealing they seemed as colleagues. While the students rated them equally in terms of success, they thought Howard was likeable while Heidi seemed selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” Sandberg’s conclusion: when a man is successful, he is well liked. When a woman does well, people like her less.
The reality is that most of us want to be liked. But if our success means that others don’t like us, how motivated are we to do well? Are we even conscious of it? Sandberg admits that she has undermined her own accomplishments for fear that others would be turned off. Sheryl tells a story to illustrate her point: At her first performance review with Zuckerberg six months into her job at Facebook, he told her that her desire to be liked by everyone was holding her back. If you please everyone, he said, you won’t change anything. “Mark was right,” she writes. Have you ever tried to please everyone in a situation and realized how fruitless it can be?
7. She provides a different perspective on mentoring. She advocates asking people both senior and junior to help you for specific advice to solve a problem. This will engender much more productive relationships than a simplistic, general plea for mentoring.
I have to agree that I have experienced and observed struggles to maintain an effective mentor/mentee relationship due to the lack of clear need and purpose. A more purposeful approach to asking for help makes a lot of sense. I believe in mentoring and also favor creating your own “advisory board” and to be able to seek and provide value and advice to others based on your need, unique Strengths and experience.
8. Women should ask their partners to do at least half the parenting work. Sandberg stakes out controversial ground on this point as well. She says women have to stop being “maternal gatekeepers” and both insist their partners do more parenting and housework and stop trying to control the way their partners do those jobs. She acknowledges that this is difficult but makes a convincing case about how necessary it is if women are going to pursue demanding careers. She also writes about “the myth of doing it all.” Despite my impression that Sandberg believed women could be corporate titans while somehow magically parenting their kids perfectly at the same time, she writes affectingly about how tough it was for her to find a balance that worked, restricting her time in the office (9-5:30 every day), having dinner with her kids when she isn’t traveling, and working from home after they go to bed.
9. It’s important to have this conversation. Sandberg understands that many women don’t want both a career and family, and that others don’t care about ascending to a powerful position. She gets that the majority of working women must struggle to meet monthly expenses and to put food on the table. She acknowledges that she is preaching to the privileged few who have the education and the connections to make it to positions of power. But she insists that increased numbers of women in leadership roles will help the status and opportunities of all women. She wants women to talk about getting ahead and what it means to seek leadership roles. We also need to consider that leadership is not just about the workplace. We need leadership in our communities and in our families and so the “lean in” principal is adaptable there for women who choose a different path.
10. Sandberg has written a compelling, readable book. Lean In has a powerful message and it is full of personal vulnerability and first-hand anecdotes, packed with statistics and studies that back up her points. She writes about her divorce in her 20s and how she felt it signified a personal failing, about how, as a girl, she felt ashamed when people called her “bossy,” and how she was racked with self-doubt while a college student, even though she was near the top of her Harvard class. Along with the Howard/Heidi study, she writes about a 2002 survey of medical students in a surgery rotation showing that women gave themselves lower scores than the men even though faculty evaluations gave the women higher ratings. A 2012 study of thousands of political candidates revealed that the men were 60% more likely to say they were “very qualified” to run for office. Those are just a few of many examples.
It was interesting to see Sheryl’s vulnerability in how she reacted to the 2011 Forbes list of the world’s 100 most powerful women. She was ranked No. 5 on the list, ahead of Michelle Obama and Indian politician Sonia Gandhi. “Far from feeling powerful, I felt embarrassed and exposed,” she writes, adding that she told colleagues that she thought the list was “ridiculous.” Until her longtime executive assistant, Camille Hart, pulled Sandberg aside and suggested Sandberg was handling the publicity poorly. It underlines how tough it can be, as a woman, to accept praise and that even highly successful women like Sheryl struggle like us all.
I hope this short review is a reminder of the many areas of thought provoking discussion you can continue to have with yourself and colleagues with the aim for our professional and personal growth as women. Please join us at future Lean In discussions.
Jayne Jenkins CEO www.Churchill Leadership Group.com
Content contributed by Susan Adams, Forbes editor, March 2013