Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Lean In" Isn't Such a Bad Message

Lately, two of the top tech-y women in our country have been in the news.  The Yahoo! CEO and new mother, Marissa Mayer, shook up her employees' routine by disbanding the work-at-home / telecommuting model and, at the same time, building a nursery in her office.  Telecommuters and moms, alike, were all in a tizzy.  (You may recall this previous post, I wasn't too crazy about her 2-week maternity leave, but it wasn't really any of my business.)  Her Silicon Valley neighbor, Sheryl Sandburg, the COO at FaceBook, has a new book telling women to "Lean In" and apparently, because she's a bazillionaire and Harvard grad, detractors suggest that we should disregard her message.

Instead, learn from her.
I watched Sandburg's interview on 60 Minutes on Sunday and it was interesting to see the interviewer try to poke holes in Sandburg's advice.  Yes, there remains gender and racial bias in the workplace (you can google the data on women and minority CEOs and corporate executives, if you really need proof.)  Yes, a Harvard grad woman has a few more advantages then someone who went to a non-ivy clad school, or, especially, someone who didn't go at all.  Yes, you do have a few more resources when your husband is also a techy-CEO.  And, you could even argue that as a White woman, she has at least one step up over African-American or other minority women.  Okay, so let's put all that aside.  Consider some of the points of her message.

(These are not direct quotes, but from my notes and memory of her interview.  And no, I have not read the book yet, but it is one of the few non-fictions that I'm putting on my list.)

Women give their family and children consideration in planning their careers - this can hold them back from the higher levels of the corporate world.  Consciously or not, I do believe this is true.  There are few women that I personally know who have not given some thought to the hours, the intensity of the work, the travel involved in taking a particular job in relation to whether they can pick their kids up from the bus stop, make it to PTA meetings, and have dinner on the table.  As women, we often debate on what type of career we will have, if one at all, depending on the type of home lifestyle we desire.  I'm sure many of your mom friends, and possibly you yourself, have faced similar decisions.  There's no judgement there, it's just the way women who are mothers, or wish to be, often think.  And by placing these "limitations", for lack of a better, less charged word, does keep women from the highest rung that they may otherwise reach.

Women don't negotiate for what they're worth.  In her interview, Sandburg admitted that she was going to take the first offer given to her by FaceBook.  It was her husband and brother who convinced her she should negotiate for something higher, for the salary they would pay a man.  Whether making millions or minimum wage, do we, as women negotiate for our true value?  Speaking for myself, I'm a terrible negotiator, even my kids can outbid me.  I will fold in a negotiation because I am nervous about walking away from a good deal, not ready to risk it for maybe something better.  And I don't want to hurt the other person's feelings.  Are most women like that?

Women attribute their successes to luck and help from others, rather than their own skills.  I'm interpreting this as we don't accept the credit for our own merits.  Whether its having well-behaved children or being the smartest in the class or the best employee at work, how often do we shake off compliments and suggest that there was something else that contributed to our job well done.  When was the last time you claimed, "yes, I did it because I'm the best at what I do" rather than "my team/coworkers/nanny/stylist/husband did most of it."  I don't suggest, and I don't think Sandburg does either, to be downright arrogant, but, as I tell my own kids, take some pride in your work.  Yeah, I know what they call women who are too boastful, but whatever.  Men don't care about that either.

Lean in.  Sandburg says by this she means "be ambitious."  Who's arguing with that message?  Yes, some women are ambitious already, so I'm assuming they wouldn't take offense to that.  Is it the unambitious ones who are upset?  Oh, maybe because we are reading it as "...and then you too can be a  COO and a bazillionaire."  I don't know if that's what she meant, but that's not the way I'm taking it.  Let's just think about putting our all into whatever it is we're doing, whether its being a tech-mogul, a partner in a law firm, or a super-cool mom.  Let's tell our girls that - lean in.  Be the smartest in the class, the highest scorer on the team, the class President.

We're willing to ignore and tear apart Sandburg's message because she's rich and smart and, yes, lucky as heck.  The interviewer on 60 Minutes asked if we should listen to her because she's a rich executive. I laughed and said to the TV, "uhh, yeah, she obviously knows what she's doing."  But also, because I like to look at people's successes (bazillionaires or really together moms) and figure out how they can help me be a better me.


Robyn said...

Good post. I actually planned on going to Barnes today to get this book. It's also on my list. I agree I want to learn how to be a better me. Why not read the advice from someone who put on her big girl panties and tackled the corporate world head on.

Christine said...

Great post. I read this book twice (and my boss actually bought me a copy when I told her I wanted to read it over the summer!), and agree with a lot of what she says in the book. I know I've struggled with downplaying my successes, but I'm definitely getting better at owning my success.

Mommyx4 said...

Great Christine. I'm sure you have much to take pride in!