Last post I shared lessons that I had learnt from activist Sheryl Sandberg –the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook who has written a groundbreaking international bestseller, Lean In – Women, Work and the Will to Lead.
I have taken a lot from this book and wanted to share this with you, in particular a very important observation that Sheryl makes – that women tend to doubt themselves and downplay their successes, particularly in front of others. We bring ourselves down first before others can. So although businesses or government can try to increase the number of women in senior positions and address the pay gap, women must first look at the obstacles within themselves first.
Sandberg explains that fear is one of our main stumbling blocks.
‘Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.’
Take the steps to challenge and change this fear
- Address the fear. This is the first step. Sandberg believes women will take more risks and achieve more in both their professional and personal lives if the imposter syndrome is negated.
- Be more vocal in our support. We need to be more vocal in our support of each other, whether that’s support of women who choose careers, motherhood, or both. If we are going to make any headway in gender equality, our attitude to other women who are successful at work, work in the home, or other women working alongside us, needs to change for the better.
In the movie The Intern, there is a pertinent scene where Robert De Niro’s character sits next to two mothers in the playground and admonishes them for not applauding Jules’ (Anne Hathaway’s) career and success. Sadly, this interplay happens too often. We gossip, bitch, criticise, find fault in others to make ourselves feel better. What we don’t realise, is that by doing so, we aren’t helping the cause.
- Avoid jealousy. Jealousy plays a big part. There just aren’t enough opportunities for women in senior positions and so we find it hard to be positive towards those who have made it. We see each other as competition, which isn’t furthering the long-term goal.
- Encourage the sisterhood. We need to become more of a sisterhood; be encouraging, supportive and try to have each others’ back when one of us is under attack or struggling.
What you can do now
Next time you are talking with friends, family or colleagues, notice the language that you use to describe other women. Do you tend to talk more subjectively about their personality and pass judgment on whether they are nice people or not? Or are you more objective; describing their work, touting and celebrating their achievements? We need to move more towards the latter.
I highly recommend reading this book if you are in business, looking for career inspiration, or if you have a daughter planning a career. Encourage husbands, partners or boyfriends to read it too! I believe both men and women will find value in its pages.
As a society, I also believe we have a responsibility to place this book on the national curriculum for all boys and girls to read. And my, how I wish that all HR departments, recruitment companies, managers and business owners would also read it!
After the success of the book, Sheryl Sandberg created the Lean In Org, to continue the conversation and help change the way we work. I would ideally love to see an internationally-recognised qualification, such as ISO 9000 – Quality Management. There is no guarantee that a qualification will result in change, but it would be a start towards greater understanding of diversity, and it would be a huge help to women looking for jobs.
I know that if I had to make a choice between a company who had sent all its managers to study the 8 Lean In concepts, versus a company who had no diversity qualifications, I would most definitely choose one with Lean In accreditation. I’ll leave that to Lean In.
My personal challenge
The more immediate challenge for me is starting up and running my own digital consulting business! Thanks to the book Lean In and immeasurable support from other women in business, I have conquered my fear (although it’s a daily/hourly process!) and I’m following my dream.
Yes, I’ve given up trying to break through the glass ceiling (concrete ceiling in my case), and instead I’m clawing my way up the side, brick by brick, to the roof. It’s tough going, but exhilarating, and the best thing of all is: I’m my own boss and I like her.