… From the desk of Jayne Battey
I can see it coming out of the corner of my eye, and I am helpless to stop it. There it is—in the back corner, the hand of an eminently capable woman up in the air, waving, waiting to be called on. And in the meantime, thirty men in the room pound the table and shout out questions without any regard for, without even considering, raising a hand. Ugh. Why are we such good girls?
Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, intrigued me from the start. I read it right after it came out in one sitting early in the morning on our front porch. When I was invited to the Computer History Museum to hear her speak, I jumped at the chance. And when a friend reached out about getting a group together to talk about the book, I immediately offered to host the conversation at my home.
Clearly, I am intrigued and want to be part of the conversation. But why is it that when the interview at the Computer History Museum ended, a friend and I turned to each other with quizzical looks on our faces and both said, “Huh”. As in “huh”, interesting, engaging, thought-provoking, really liked Sheryl, but Now what? Or was it even, So What?
In case you missed them, here are a few key statistics:
- Women hold just 14 percent of executive positions in the Fortune 500.
- Women are paid 77 cents on the dollar as compared to men in comparable jobs .
- Women hold only 18 percent of the seats in the US Congress.
And for all of you who are thinking, no, that salary statistic can’t be true in my organization, I encourage you to take a closer look. In my recent experience, the salary disparity that often starts when a woman is first hired (because we often fail to negotiate for ourselves) can grow substantial over time. You might, as I was, be surprised to learn some of your best performers are being paid less (as much as 20-30 percent less) than their male counterparts. And if you are in a position to fix that, I hope you do it this very week.
But back to Lean In. It is a terrific book—thoughtful, thought-provoking, fairly balanced and engaging. It has reignited a dialogue about women in the workforce that needs to continue, and I have been recommending the book to both my male and female friends and clients. So what’s the problem? Why are women looking at each other and asking Now What? So What? I think there are a few reasons:
- We Already Know This: I don’t know that the book actually told us anything we didn’t really already know. The observations and perceptions Sheryl shares are right on point and ring true to my own experience. Honestly, dwelling on it too much makes me an angry person—and that’s not someone that I want to be.
- Backwards in High Heels: As the famous line goes, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did backwards in high heels. The changes that need to happen to ensure women are truly equally players in the corporate world and our communities are fraught with challenges—and it takes a very special style and grace to overcome the incredibly subtle sabotage we inflict on ourselves and receive from others. I think the book raised a lot of good questions, but the answers are very difficult to implement.
Really, I need to Lean In Further?: Many of us, who have been leaning in since the 1970’s, may be a bit exhausted at the very thought of leaning in further. The Editors’s Note in the May 2013 issue of Real Simple captured some of my thoughts on this: “Here’s the thing: I don’t want to be striving for bigger / better / higher / more every minute of every day. I don’t always want to have a larger goal. That just sounds exhausting and, worst of all, completely joyless.”
While all of this may be true, I simply can’t turn away from this topic. I hope you don’t either. We don’t need to be angry, or joyless, or even do it in high heels (backwards), but I firmly believe that women need to have a larger presence in leadership roles.
The world is too complicated to not have every resource we possess at the table—and we need women, who account for roughly half our population and now comprise over 60% of US college students, at the table and in key leadership positions.
We started our Lean In Circle just yesterday with eight women. It was an animated conversation, and I expect our journey will be as much about leaning in to each other, as it will be about leaning in to our careers and our community. I won’t be surprised to find us a powerful force, and I look forward to seeing what we might accomplish for ourselves, our sons and our daughters, and our community. Let’s hope we’re having a much different conversation ten years from now.
Learn more about starting your own Lean In Circle at www.leanin.org.