A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook titled “Why we have too few women leaders.” For me, this video has inspired great personal reflection and it is worth sharing with anyone that will listen. Sandberg points to clear reasons for gender inequalities in professional leadership and proposes real solutions. This TED talk and has sparked many questions that I’ve been chewing on ever since. I hope you take the 15 minutes to listen to her message, and see what it stirs up for you.
In summary, according to Sandberg there are three professional problems women face:
- We are not making it to the top of any profession: Only 16% of corporate & 20% of non-profit leaders are women
- Many must choose between professional success and personal fulfillment
- Success and likability are negatively correlated in women, while they are positively correlated in men
Three actions we can take to overcome the above problems:
- Sit at the table
- Make your partner a true partner
- Don’t leave before you leave
1. Sit at the table
Women are sometimes more reluctant and self-conscious than their male counterparts. When guys are asked why they succeed they often respond with, “Because I’m awesome.” However, when women are asked the same question they tend to respond with, “It could have gone better, I must have gotten lucky, or someone helped me”
We add value to our departments and universities by sharing our unique ideas and contributions. We never know how an opinion will be received until we share it. This past week at our university retention committee meeting I took a risk. As the youngest committee member I was hesitant to share a differing viewpoint about how we are measuring student success. However, I had been given a seat at this table and if I am not sharing my thoughts, then I am simply filling a seat. Sharing my opinion at the university level was a big step for me. I could have kept my ideas to myself or only share them in a safe environment, but by sharing them in this venue I might impact change at the university level. What an empowering feeling!
- What ideas do you hold back for fear of how they will be received?
- What tables are you not fully sitting at?
- Do you downplay compliments or refuse to take credit for your success?
2. Make your partner a true partner
When both partners are working full time outside of the home, they should be sharing equal responsibilities inside the home. Studies show that the majority of women that work full-time and have kids report carrying two thirds of the domestic work load. Essentially, they are working all day and working all evening. Being a grown up is hard work, and if we are lucky enough to have a partner we should count on them to be a true partner.
My husband is great at sharing responsibilities, and I fully own my feelings surrounding household duties. I just can’t seem to shake this nagging sense of domestic guilt if the house isn’t perfectly cleaned or our grocery shopping hasn’t been completed by Sunday evening. Why do I let myself feel guilt? Why am I so hard on myself about these domestic responsibilities? Our workload will become much greater as we start a family in the future. In order to successfully manage the increased responsibilities we will need to continue to discuss what our partnership will look like and I will need to let go of the guilt if everything isn’t perfectly in place at the start of the week.
- Are you 50/50 partners? Is it closer to 33/66??
- Do you take responsibility for items that should be shared?
- Do you feel domestic guilt when work takes priority over clean laundry or a home cooked meal?
3. Don’t leave before you leave
Many times, from the moment a woman thinks about having a child she thinks about how she could make room for the child. So she doesn’t raise her hand for the extra project or exciting opportunity. Although she hasn’t left, she hasn’t brought her passion or her 100%. She is “leaving” early and which means she could be taking herself out of the running for future leadership positions long before she ever starts to have children. Why shy away from projects and promotions before having kids? We can’t slow our professional momentum in anticipation for future responsibility.
This point strongly resonates with me, as I often ask myself where kids would fit into my busy hectic life. In fact, I recently made a career move from residence life to academic advising, and when folks asked about it I explained “I plan on having kids soon.” What message did I send myself and others by sharing this? Now that I am in my new position, I have vowed to not slow down one bit. I love my job, and I love working with students and thinking outside of the box. I love the big projects and putting in the extra time to make programs extraordinary. Going the extra mile helps make me feel like I’m making a difference and I secretly think it is my superpower. I hope to never let go of my superpower.
- Are you consciously or unconsciously holding yourself back?
- Do you say no to opportunities when you could say yes?
- What are the long term implications of your “yes” or “no” today?
I encourage you to keep working hard and don’t stop trying to move forward. Sit at the table and bring your ideas & opinions. Take credit for your contributions, you are awesome. Share household responsibilities and find a balance with your partner. Believe in yourself, you are capable of the position you dream of.