March is Women’s History Month and this past Friday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day. So, today’s post is less about PR and more about women in the workplace overall. There is a lot of talk about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In, which encourages women to lean in more to their ambitions. Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and is ranked on FORTUNE magazine’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. So, basically, she is brilliant and knows a lot about women in the workplace. Her multi-million dollar salary, presumed household help, and good fortune aside, her book was interesting to me because it touched upon a lot of the inequalities between men and women in the workplace and how women are holding themselves back in many ways, oftentimes not even realizing it. Apparently, men and women graduate college at the same rate, but only 16% of women hold top positions or board seats in corporate America. Only 4% of CEOs are women. (Sandberg actually gave a powerful TEDTalk about how few women leaders we have, that I suggest you check out.) As a woman who values my career, I wanted to learn more about how she thinks women can set boundaries and lean in more… I want to share some of her key takeaways with you here:
Women need to sit at the table. What does this mean? Well, women underestimate their capabilities and don’t negotiate for themselves in the workplace the way men do. Many women attribute their success to others having helped them get there while men credit themselves. So, women need to sit at the table and own their success more—not on the sidelines.
Make your partner a real partner. This may apply to some and not others. For those it does apply to, it means that partners need to contribute equally at home, particularly with childcare, so that women can lean in to their careers more. Studies show that if men and women both have full time jobs and are equal in the workplace, women will still do 30% more housework and 40% more childcare than their partner. This can be debated every which way, but I think the point here is that women do need help. So whether you are in a relationship or doing it on your own, you are going to need help along the way, and that’s okay. Men need it too. We all do.
Don’t leave before you leave. According to Sandberg, women who want to have families start leaning back too early—they don’t go after the promotion, new project, raise, etc. because they don’t see how they can balance both when they do decide to have a family. She says that women need to keep their foot on the gas pedal and keep reaching for opportunities—the time to scale back is when the child arrives or a break is needed, and not a moment before that.
Advocate for your ideas. Believe in them and let them be heard.
Successfully negotiate. Men have no problems negotiating what they think they deserve. Women often feel bad or like they are not worth what they are negotiating.There was a mention of how men and women look at job requirements differently. If a man meets about 60% of the job requirements, he will apply. A woman feels like she has to meet 100%. Think about that, ladies!
Women worry too much about being liked. I always say that there is a difference between being aggressive and assertive. You may not always be liked, but you need to be respected, and therefore respectful while still asserting yourself.
Sheryl encourages young women not “get a mentor and you will excel” but instead to “excel and you will get a mentor.” Don’t look to someone else to set you up for success. Own it yourself and the mentor will come.
Fear is at the root of so many barriers that women face. We have a fear of not being liked, making the wrong decisions, drawing negative attention, overreaching, being judged, failure, and/or that we cannot be both good employees and mothers. We have to overcome these fears, which can paralyze us and hold us back.
Abandon the “women can have it all” myth. This becomes a heated topic. I think a lot of women feel like they have to sacrifice work for family or family for work, unless they are very fortunate, and even the fortunate ones have to think about this choice. I think if women realize that it is a constant push-pull, give-take situation, then they won’t be so let down. There are times when you will have to choose work or have to choose family, and that is okay. Easy, no. We can have it all, just maybe not all at once, but “having it all” means different things to different women as well and doesn’t necessarily have to constitute career and children.
I share all of this with you because we have come a very long way, but there is still work to be done. I am lucky that I work in an industry where I see so many powerful women who are wonderful role models and mentors, and are sitting in the driver’s seat of their lives. My only hope for all of you is that you feel empowered enough to “lean in” and go for it too. As one powerhouse, triple threat of a woman once said: Who runs the world? Girls!
(Image: J. Howard Miller)