Sheryl Sandberg‘s book “Lean In” was in the cross-fires this weekend by a contributor at Forbes with an article entitled “Sheryl Sandberg “Lean In” More Aspirational than Inspirational“. I actually loved the different viewpoint of the author – but then again I am a huge fan of strong women. What I found interesting was the essence that Sheryl is not an “attainable” role model. Hmmm. A quote comes to mind by Leo Burnett, “
When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.
In other words, since when do we want our role models to be ordinary?
The other interesting thing is that it’s easy to put Ms. Sandberg in the cross fires and whine “but she’s sooo successful”. Yet, if she were a man proclaiming he goes home at 5:30 every day there would be almost unanimous respect. People wouldn’t be arguing it’s because he has “help” etc etc. They would compare him against his peers in the same role and say “Good for you!”
I started my career in tech, made a few side trips, and am now an executive in economic development. Working at Fortune 500 companies for the bulk of that career I did my time working the crazy hours. I’ve been strapped to a call desk where my hours are dictated. I know what it’s like to walk into the building at 7pm to spend the next 8 hours working to convert servers and data over. I’ve lead online projects – and been the only woman in the room.
Here’s the thing – those few women (and we NEED to be more) who work in our world are inspired by Sheryl and here’s why. Her message of a balanced life at the top is not heeded by all – especially the men. I had 1 male boss in my 18 year career who lectured his entire team about the importance of balance and actually lived it. I remember thinking “One day when I’m at his level, I want to do it his way.”
His commitment to balance actually made our team healthier. It made us perform stronger, and generally we were highly motivated. Compare that with other teams I watched where the leader was relentless in the 15+ hour work day and the request for time-in-lieu or vacation time was considered a faux pas. Guess how many people stuck around?
Here’s the thing about Sheryl. I want her as a role model just like I want my personal trainer to be in better shape than me. As for her call to lean in, I am FULLY on board. I look at it this way. I am helping keep the door open for the generation behind me. If we are so naive as to believe that if women don’t lean in that it will make no difference, than we are blinded. By leaning back, we are effectively making it more difficult for future generations to have the opportunities we currently have.
I often think back to the women’s suffrage movement where women actually did hunger strikes to get the right to vote. I wonder what they would have thought if after all they did women simply decided that “voting” wasn’t important after all.
I think the same holds true for the women who forged ahead and broke some glass ceilings for us. What must they think of our generations willingness to just “give up” leadership. The number of women in leadership is sliding, and to me that is a very alarming trend. Alarming because women bring a different perspective to companies which makes them competitive. Alarming because less women in leadership now means it will be more difficult for women to break into positions in the future.
Sheryl’s message is a call to action for those who have the opportunities before them for leadership to step up! Sadly, most people ask what’s the big deal? They think that for some reason equality is now practiced everywhere and they ask “What glass ceiling?” The fact is it is there, and I hope it will not be my generation that is noted in the history books for “undoing” all the work of the generations before.
Lean in Ladies! If not for yourself, do it for your daughters.