Sheryl Sandberg, who is the chief operating officer of Facebook, has been in the headlines recently (for all the right reasons) due to the 2013 release of her book, ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’. According to her research, although half of college graduates are women, an astounding 85% of leaders, particularly in government and industry, are men. And the women who do happen to climb to the upper echelon, are perceived as less likeable than men of the same rank. As I am privileged to keep the company of a truly bright and inspiring posse of girlfriends, together, with Lean In as our guide, we started a conversation about women in leadership.
For those who are unfamiliar with the core tenants of Lean In, Sandberg provides three concrete ways in which women can advance their leadership in the workplace:
- Sit at the table—This principle encourages women to ‘sit at the table’ both literally and figuratively. Many women literally sit at the outskirts of the table at meetings or in the back of the room, removing themselves from the action and unintentionally from the promotions. By ceasing to underestimate their own abilities, woman can start taking ownership over their own success.
- Make your partner a real partner—In the home, women do twice the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare, regardless of whether or not they have a full-time job. By dividing household duties more equally between partners, the hope is that women will feel that they have the support they need to pursue their goals while the home is maintained.
- Don’t leave before you leave—Some women, in anticipation of children and a family, begin to pull away from their careers and long before they actually need to. Sandberg encourages women to stay present and engaged in their careers until it is truly time to leave.
I certainly think that having more women leaders visible in politics, the corporate world, and non-profits would prove beneficial for a multitude of reasons, none of which I actually want to discuss here. My immediate response to Lean In was two-fold; I felt concern over what message the lack of women leaders sends our youth, both girls and boys, as well as encouraged that if you look around and are keeping good company, women leaders are everywhere.
The lack of women leaders perpetuates gender stereotypes for men and women alike. Men are in charge, and while women can be smart, strong, and ‘equal’, they are not in charge. Boys are not being sent the message that it is perfectly acceptable to want to stay home and raise the children; to be liked, they must go out into the world and succeed. For more women to continue to be high-achievers in the work place, a real cultural shift needs to occur. This will likely be slow as molasses, but I am happy to play a role by following my own ambitions.
Fortunately, in my network at least, women leaders are everywhere. The women at my job not only sit at the table, they’ve built the table too. My women friends live principle-driven lives and actively make the community a better place. And for those of you familiar with iLead, you know the most important person you can lead is yourself, so I’ll add myself into this list. Regardless of your personal role or perceived leadership capacity, you should ask yourself: Am I a woman who wants not only to drive the world forward, but myself forward in it?