Lean In and Step Up

Sheryl Sandberg's interview on 60 Minutes was candid and honest. It is perhaps this honesty about her views on women in the workplace, also explained in her book, "Lean In, Women, Work and the Will to Succeed" that has captivated the media's attention. To my delight, Sandberg's discussion about the lack of women in business leadership roles does not revolve around the "blame game" — something we as a society have become too good at doing when things do not go our way.

Yes, there are real obstacles for women that make it difficult to climb to the top of the corporate ladder. These obstacles range from flawed social policies, rigid corporate cultures (with a myriad of spoken and non-spoken rules), and social prejudices and expectations.

However, these are not the only barriers to women's success. I agree with Sandberg's assessment that solely focusing on these real hurdles to success does not help the cause of women in the workplace nor change our career trajectories. Therefore, let's acknowledge these barriers and move the dialogue along.

The criticism that Sandberg's arguments apply only to upper-middle class, well-educated women may have some basis in truth. Historically many movements initiated by women and for women began with the upper class. So what? Because Sandberg is a high-powered and visible woman, she is in a position to create real institutional, cultural and political changes. These changes may influence women's future representation in leadership roles. Is that a bad thing?

The media has criticized Sandberg for having access to resources most of us don't. This is true, but her message still resonates for all working women. Work-life balance is an issue for women and anyone who cares about families. Sandberg has re-energized this conversation. It would be sad to see this topic hijacked because it came from a prominent, wealthy female. Whoever started this conversation is secondary to the fact that it needs to continue.

Regardless of our level of education or socioeconomic background, as women we continue to feel that we have to make the false choice between success in our careers or success 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 careers and the other eye on their personal lives? You rarely, if ever, hear men debate and struggle with this issue. Although many young men do express a desire for more balanced lives than their fathers 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 known or heard of women declining promotions or opportunities for exposure to company decision makers because they don't want to travel or they don't want to take on added stress. Think of the words "I don't want to..." as being code for the sentiment that we actually don't want to take time away from our families or kids. This is okay. My issue is that women routinely turn down professional advancement without even trying to negotiate the logistics of the opportunities being presented. Maybe we can find a way to make the opportunities work for us, but we never bother to find out when we assume the answer is no.

Therefore, we as individual women must change our mindsets, regardless of the social and cultural messages we hear. I am not denying the obstacles in our paths to climbing the corporate ladder. However, we must be willing to control what we can.

The only person who can control what you think and believe about yourself and your chances for success is 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 yourself, regardless of the obstacles in your path, others will take notice. When you don't show up believing in yourself, others will take notice of this as well and you will likely 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. This includes 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 careers compromised due to lack of partner support and obsolete role expectations related to parenting, housekeeping and more. Many enlightened men talk the talk but few actually walk the walk. I always tell people to choose their partners wisely, because this choice will impact the entire course of theirs careers.

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 supposed to act. A male boss may be considered assertive, yet when a female boss displays the same behaviours she is aggressive. A male boss is firm and a female boss is a witch. Many female leaders could relate to Sandberg's experience of childhood sexual stereotyping. She was told her entire life that she was bossy. I reiterate her message that when girls are called bossy, we as parents and teachers should 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 belief that the women's movement has stalled. I agree. Sandberg's new book is passionately reigniting a conversation that is decades old. She is asking women to take charge of their careers, to insist on getting paid what they are worth and to lean into their careers. This will hopefully promote women into higher achievements in leadership and all areas of business. We don't have to agree with everything Sandberg says, but I think we should be grateful that she is bringing the conversation back into the public in a big way.

I believe things are changing for women, although not as rapidly as we would like. I see it in my own young adult 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  |  www.relationshiptoolbox.com
Dr. Patty Ann is an internationally recognized relationship and communication expert. She is a sought-after speaker, author and leading authority to professionals in the field of relationship and communication advice. Dr. Patty Annís techniques combine professional expertise and personal experiences to help women design healthy, happy relationships for success in business and life.