“Women, Work and the Will to Lead”
James Brown said this is a man’s world, but Beyonce says women run it. While you’ll probably never catch me arguing with Queen Bey, she probably has more say-so in running the world as an individual than you or I. For that very reason, I wanted to spotlight a book I just read for class. It’s called Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. By the way, she is currently the COO of Facebook and used to work for Google.
I was introduced to Sheryl when I watched her TED talk on why we have too few women in leadership positions. I loved it. When my teacher posted a list of books to read, I was thrilled to see hers on the list…then it took over two weeks to arrive when I ordered it online, but I digress.
Her book addresses not only the lack of women in the workplace, but also how we’ve come to be in the minority and what we’re doing to keep ourselves there (including not requiring or allowing our partners to help us and be actual partners.) I can imagine a large portion of you on this site and reading these posts are strong outspoken women like myself. Maybe you think this doesn’t even really apply to you, but this book is a quick read and I encourage you to give it a try. I knew I’d like the book from watching her talk, but I was surprised at how much it applied to me. Here’s an example
Throughout her book she talks about how men tend to advocate for themselves, but women do not. She traces this back to studies on infants and children and links this to women’s lack of confidence. She sited a study by Hewlett-Packard that showed that women would only apply for positions if they felt they met all of or superseded the listed requirements; whereas men would apply if they met 60% of the requirements. When I read that, I reflected on my day. I am currently doing an internship at a physical therapy clinic with one of my classmates. Earlier that day the clinical instructor asked me a question. In my head I thought, “Sciatic nerve. No that’s dumb. That can’t be the answer. It has to be something else.” Meanwhile, my classmate is itching to answer. When I don’t, he shouts out “sciatic nerve!” Then the instructor asks me another question. I thought, “Slump test. No that’s too obvious. It has to be something else.” My classmate answered again when I deferred. He said, “slump test!” He was right both times. Now I’m sure everyone has doubts, but if I could read a section of the book and have it literally refer to something I did that same day, how often was I doing that? I told me classmate about what happened too. He just shrugged and said, “the worst you can be is wrong.”
If that’s not enough, I also read about something else I that happened to me that very same day. Sheryl talks about the results of our social perceptions of men and women in the work place. One of the things she mentions is that because men are perceived as authoritative, we do not blame them for being authoritative. We assume it is the norm and do not take issue with it. Because we assume women are nurturing and comforting, we tend sometimes to be surprised, offended and or threatened by their authority. I noticed this when I was doing an evaluation with my clinical instructor. I had a male patient, and even though I was performing the evaluation, he continued to make eye contact with my male instructor. Even when I asked a question, he would answer to the instructor. It wasn’t until he walked away that the patient was forced to address me. This guy was perfectly nice to me and followed all of my instructions when we were alone, but in the company of a man, I barely got any eye contact from this guy.
Sheryl makes many great points in this book and talks about how to go forward. She talks about the need for respect of women who work in and out of the home, the need for an environment that supports men and women taking active roles in the home, and the need for more women in leadership positions. Men just simply aren’t aware of all women’s need. I have two favorite anecdotes on this last point from the book. The first is when Sheryl suddenly realizes the need for expectant mother parking…because she is pregnant and rushing from the back of a very full parking lot. The second is when she attends an all male business meeting, and no one knows where the women’s restroom is during a break.
On that note, I would like to commend Craig Davis for recognizing the needs of women and not being afraid of it jeopardizing his masculinity. I told a guy friend that was writing for him for this site. The guy asked if Craig was gay. Isn’t that sad? A man can’t recognize the needs of women without his sexuality coming into question. Do you know what they call someone filling a need with a product in the business market…? Genius. Anywhere else, and we find ourselves in some taboo twilight zone.
Sheryl talks in her book also about a performance between the international and female students and the American male students in the Harvard School of Business. The American males were outdoing their classmates by a noticeable and disturbing amount. In two short years the faculty managed to fix the gap by making small changes and guess what? Not only did the women and international students perform better, but also all of the students reported higher satisfaction rates in the program. We all do better when we all do better.
This was supposed to be short, but I’ve always had things to say. After reading this book, I won’t apologize for it. Check this book as soon as you can. Thanks again to Craig Davis for realizing that these gaps harm everyone and being a man enough to do something about it. Thank you to the other authors who let it shine without apology!