Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lean In

I've been thinking about Sheryl Sandberg's book ever since I put it down two months ago. Sandberg has been Facebook's COO since 2008 and is the new face of women in the workplace.

While I disagree with some of her views such as that it's okay for women to cry in the workplace and that women don't need mentors, the bulk of her content and the way she tells stories, backed by data, fuels my ambition. However, I am on the older side of the demographic for this book; I've already made significant career choices and completed my family.

Her point, in a nutshell, is that the many gender biases that still operate in the workplace aren't an excuse for women hitting the glass ceilings. Justifications won't get us anywhere. Instead, women should believe in themselves, give it their all, "lean in" and have confidence that they can successfully combine work and family.

"When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy," Sandberg writes. "Boys are seldom bossy because a boy taking the role of a boss does not surprise or offend." She goes on to share the Columbia Business School case study that measured "likability" among men versus women in business. One group of students were told of an aggressive, successful venture capitalist named Heidi; another group of students were told the same story except that Heidi was Howard. Even though no other details were changed, students found Howard the more likable of the two.

The data points in this book make my blood boil.

Sandberg points out that men apply for jobs when they meet merely 60 percent of the listed requirements while women wait until they meet 100 percent. Men also negotiate for higher salaries far more often than women. For example, of a graduation class of Carnegie Mellon students, 57 percent of men initiated negotiations as compared to 7 percent of women.

Men are often hired based on their potential whereas women are hired based on past successes. Just this week my friend "Craig" asked a hiring manager why the previous person in the job they were discussing had not worked out. Craig was told exactly that, "I hired him based more on his potential than his fit for this job."

I spend a fair amount of time counseling early- and mid-career-stage women to not settle for less than they're worth, for doing their part to close the wage gap between men and women. They tell me that they don't have the nerve to ask for a flexible work situation or more money. They tell me that "things are just as bad out there" as "where I work now". I challenge them to better their situations.

Sandberg tells us that the most important decision a woman makes is picking her spouse. To achieve big in corporate America one needs a partner who will do his or her 50% and support their partner's career choices.

I hit the jackpot on this one. I have learned a lot about negotiation from Dave. Who do you think gives me the confidence to go after what I'm worth and to pursue new interests? Who is just as good, if not better, with the kids? I actually think they like him more. He's definitely more fun.

Sandberg encourages women to face their fears. After more than 20 years in technology I still have days that I feel like a fraud. And I still sometimes find myself spoken over and discounted while the men sitting next to me are not (and they are mostly men as I work in a technical field). But now I take a deep breath and keep at it. I have learned to sit at the table. When one of my male colleagues pops out of his office and yells to a female on our team, "I want to talk to you" I grimace. This is another behavior Sandberg cites as something a male would never do to another male. I have pointed this out to the women on our team so they can make their own decisions about how to react.

Most of my professional women friends have read this book. If you have not, and are a woman who works or are planning to return to work, I suggest you do yourself a favor and spend a few hours raising your blood pressure in favor of closing the gender wage gap.


Paige said...

Oh I've been so interested in your review of this book. I hoped you would read it and you do not disappoint! Knowing you and Dave and really changed my mind about whether women can "have it all." Some day we will discuss. But first I'll read the whole book and not just reviews!

Postcards From The Hedge said...

May I borrow your copy?