Sheryl Sandberg's interview last night on 60 Minutes was candid and honest. It is perhaps this honesty and straight forward conversation about her views on women in the work place, which is the topic of her book titled: "Lean In, Women, Work and the Will to Succeed" is what has captivated the attention of the media. To my delight, Sandberg's discussion about the lack of women in leadership roles in business does not revolve around the "blame game" - something we as a society have gotten to good at doing lately when things do not go our way.
Yes, there are real obstacles for women making that climb to the top of the corporate ladder difficult, ranging from flawed social policies, rigid corporate cultures (with a myriad of spoken and non-spoken rules) social prejudices and expectations to name only a few. However, these are not the only barriers to women's success and I agree with Sandberg's assessment that solely focusing on these very real hurdles, as an excuse for not achieving success does not do anything to advance the cause for women in the work place nor change our trajectory. Therefore, let's acknowledge these barriers exist and move the dialogue along.
The criticism that Sandberg's arguments apply only to upper-middle class, well-educated women may have some basis of truth in it. Historically, however, many movements initiated by women, for women, began with the upper class, so what? My feeling is that because Sandberg is a high-powered visible woman she is, in fact, in a position to actualize real institutional, cultural and political changes that will directly influence our representation in leadership roles across the board. Is this a bad thing? Sandberg has also been criticized that she has access to resources most of us don't. True, but this does not negate the fact that her message resonates for all working women. Work-life balance is an evergreen issue not just for women but also for anyone who cares about families. Sandberg has re-energized this conversation and it would be very sad to see this topic hijacked because it came from a prominent, wealthy female. Wherever the conversation originated is secondary to the fact that it needs to continue.
Regardless of our level of education or socio-economic background, women continue to feel as if we have to make the false choice between success in our career or success (happiness) in our personal lives. Can we honestly disagree with the premise that many women hold themselves back in business because they have one eye on their career and the other eye on their personal lives? Furthermore, you rarely, if ever, hear men debate and struggle with this issue; albeit many young men do express a desire for a more balanced life than their father's had, they do not see this as an either/or proposition.
Women do make professional choices based on the fact that we are also wives and mothers. We've all know or heard of women declining a promotion or opportunity for exposure to the "decision-makers" in their company because "I don't want to travel" or "I don't want to take on that added stress". Now think of the words "I don't want to..." as being code words for the sentiment that we don't want to take time away from our family or kids. And this is really okay. My issue with the above lies in the fact that women routinely turn down opportunities for professional advancement without even entering into a discussion to see if they can negotiate the logistics of the opportunity being presented. Maybe a way can be found to make the opportunity work for us, but we never bother to even ask the question because we assume we already know the answer.
Therefore, we as individual women must change our mindset - regardless of the social and cultural message(s) we are hearing. Again, I am not for a second denying the obstacles put in the path of our climb to the top of the corporate ladder, however you must be willing to control what you can control. The only person who can control what you think and believe about yourself and your chances for success are you. When and how you show up is influenced by your mindset and what you believe you can accomplish. When you show up with a belief in your self, regardless of the obstacles in your path, others will take notice. When you don't show up believing in your self, others will take notice of this as well and you will more often than not be passed over or ignored.
Sandberg's other discussion point last night hit my sweet spot on the topic of women and their choice of partners. My Amazon best selling book: "Not Tonight Dear, I've Got a Business to Run!" (www.nottonightdearbook.com) talks about the importance of having an intimate partner that does whatever it takes to support your work, including the dishes, cooking, cleaning and being an actively engaged parent at all times, not just one who shows up for the school play. I've seen many women's career(s) compromised due to lack of support from their partner manifested by obsolete role expectations related to parenting, housekeeping and a slew of other unrealistic expectations. Many enlightened men talk the talk but few actually walk the walk. As I've always taught, choose your partner wisely, they will have an incredible impact on the course of your career via their support of it, or lack thereof.
No one is naïve enough to deny that society still holds onto obsolete expectations of men and women. We hold onto sexual stereotypes of how men and women are "suppose" to be and how they are "suppose" to act. A male boss may be considered assertive and yet when a female boss displays that same behavior she is aggressive. A male boss is firm and a female boss who exhibits the same behavior is a b***h. Many female leaders could relate to Sandberg's experience of childhood sexual stereotyping when she stated she was told her entire life that she was bossy! I strongly re-iterate her message that when girls are called bossy - we, as parents and teachers reframe that negative message into a positive one by telling these girls they are exhibiting leadership qualities and skills.
My last comment on Sandberg's interview relates to her view that the women's movement has stalled. I tend to agree with this assessment. The fact that Sandberg's new book is passionately re-igniting a conversation that is at least two decades old by asking women to take charge of their careers, asking them to insist they get paid what they are worth and asking women to lean into their careers will helpfully create real strides for promoting women not just in leadership positions but in all areas of business. It is not necessary to agree with everything Sandberg puts forth but I think we can be grateful she is bringing the conversation back into the public in a very big way.
On a very positive note, I do believe things are changing for women, although not as rapidly as we would like. I see it in my own young adult twenty-something children who do not see race, gender or sexual orientation as a reason to exclude anyone from anything. This way of thinking will help women advance in business and we will all win.
Sheryl Sandberg talks about leaning and I encourage women to step up!
Dr. Patty Ann Tublin
CEO & Founder of Relationship Toolbox LLC
Amazon best selling author of "Not Tonight Dear, I've Got a Business to Run!" www.nottonightdearbook.com