Mar 20, 201311:00 AMIn Her View
Business Insights & Inspiration
Women Need to “Lean In”?
"Lean In" is an Insult to Women Who Are Falling Over
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg asked several women to share their experiences for her new book, “Lean In.” There was only one caveat: only positive endings, please.
So if you’re looking for some inspirational reading, it sounds like “Lean In” is for you. I’m the first to cheer women’s success and have spent years encouraging women to be their best. I watched several of Ms. Sandberg’s speeches on YouTube, feeling the personal empowerment with her messages. I even decided that I would politely ask my boss for severance beyond the three months in my contract. I was fired the next day. Why? “You can’t be trusted.”
Oops! I guess that wouldn’t be allowed in “Lean In.”
I recognize that Ms. Sandberg recognizes biases and impediments in Corporate America that work against women’s progress. Indeed, those of us without her power spend considerable time and energy working to navigate those obstacles: don’t dress too provocatively, don’t look too wealthy, be polite when making suggestions, don’t speak openly about your successes, tilt your head to the side when talking every so often so you don’t seem so threatening, only take phone calls when your kids can’t be heard in the background, hide volunteer work that reminds a CEO of his wife…
Despite these subtle gender barriers, I’ve continued to work through and around them. I repeatedly took the complex assignments. I’ve worked more 20-hour workdays than I can possibly recollect. I’ve prepared volumes of collective presentations and reports for SEC Boards of Directors. I kept plugging away even when I had no mentors or sponsors. I didn’t shy away from getting my CPA or MBA fearing whether they would work with having a family.
And yet I’ve had bosses who didn’t approve of my divorce or personal life. My suggestions and experience have been ignored, ridiculed, or doubted. One boss kept me in isolation after I prevented a $20 million error, only to tell others that I wasn’t a “team player.” I had another boss who was identified in a sexual discrimination lawsuit, leaving him cold to my ambitions. Similar to the women whistleblowers of Enron and WorldCom, I’ve also reported ethical misconduct.
A recruiter once apologized to me when I was one of the few CFO candidates who had almost all of the prerequisite skills and experiences for a position. Why apologize? He originally told me that he was forwarding my resume for consideration because I was the only woman candidate.
At least he was better than the CEO who mistakenly misplaced the phone receiver in the cradle, allowing me to hear him question my reference about whether I could be a CFO with my children being so young.
That’s just me. And they're a downer!
I never thought Ms. Sandberg’s presence at Facebook in Silicon Valley was going to make a difference for me in Cincinnati, Ohio. There aren’t any fewer Good Ol’ Boys who think they’re enlightened on women’s issues because they read an article in the Wall Street Journal one weekend. And women business leaders have to make the same mean decisions men do when they take charge of businesses.
I also don’t care if Ms. Sandberg is coy about who schedules playdates and pushes peed-in sheets through the washer, dryer, and back onto the bed. Men don’t have to answer such questions or apologize.
But apparently Ms. Sandberg is taking a stand that we women sabotage our success because we need to “lean in.” Even though she provides ample evidence suggesting that women can be punished for “leaning in,” her conclusion is to…blame women?
Women MBA’s have enough battles to face. Being lectured to “lean in” is an insult to the women who’ve been doing so for decades. It’s an insult to the women whose traditional C-suite leaders weren’t born in the 1970’s and 1980’s like Google and Facebook’s CEO’s. It’s an insult to the women who keep plugging away in conservative non-coastal cities. It’s an insult to the women who “lean in” so much that they’re falling over.
Peddling a book that disallows negative stories is a disservice to the new MBA women just emerging from graduate schools, too. Despite Sheryl Sandberg’s attempts to sponsor a positive feminist movement, feminism has negative stories. Feminism is not primarily about blaming women because they didn’t do enough.
But Ms. Sandberg is not spending her time getting corporate leaders to be accountable beyond rhetoric and to also “lean in.” Ms. Sandberg, what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Ms. Sandberg, it’s time to take your own advice: lean in.
Check out MBA Mommy at her site: www.mba-mommy.com