Women of America: Sheryl Sandberg wants you to lean in. Her new book, about which she has been touring and talking these past few days, (it launches on March 11) has been described as an “unapologetic manifesto” and a “bold crusade” aimed at addressing one of the world's biggest problems — a lack of women in power.
The book titled "Lean In: Women, Work and The Will To Lead" has garnered as much attention from her critics as it has from her fans. Regardless of what side you come down on, one fact remains — it has people talking about women in business, women in leadership, women in the boardroom and beyond. And that’s never a bad thing.
Let’s consider a few facts for a moment.
- 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
- Women hold 14% of executive officer positions.
- Women hold 16% of board seats.
- Women earn $US 0.77 to every $US 1 men make.
While it’s true women have made great strides over the past few decades, let me remind you that it’s 2013. We have computers in our pockets. We landed a rover on Mars. But we still can’t pay women the same as men?
Sheryl Sandberg is mad as hell and she's not going to take it anymore. I can't blame her.
What is Holding Women Back?
Perhaps we've been looking at it from the wrong perspective. After all, studies have revealed that women rate higher than men on most leadership skills and that women bosses are more democratic and easier to communicate with, empowering their employees, allowing them to participate in decision-making and encouraging feedback on management policies.
Women are more than qualified to be effective leaders. So why don't they want to lead, Sandberg asks. She's prepared to provide women with training, support and resources for career success through her Lean In Foundation (also slated to launch on March 11). No excuses, right?
I'd argue that women are leading, but perhaps not in ways that are quantifiable by the Fortune 500. I attended a women's college. I own my own small business. I serve on two executive boards. I am a woman in power, but by Sheryl's standards, I'm barely there.
But this isn't about me, or Sheryl. It's about the millions of women who lead by working two or three jobs, while caring for their families. It's about the women who have limited access to education and training. They can't lean in quite as far. The support system for them is not as strong as the ones for the women who are college-educated and belong to the middle and upper classes.
But it's also about the men. While we're well aware of the Todd Akins and Donald Trumps of the world who like to tell us that women are the fairer, weaker sex, I'm unable to find any men my age who believe (or will admit to believing) that women are not capable of leading. Fathers want their daughters to be strong, independent, educated women just as much as their mothers do. In fact, in the tech community, men have helped to create many opportunities for women to excel and thrive.
What Can Be Done?
According to Ms. Sandberg, women need to take more responsibility for their success. She argues that the biggest barrier between women and success is themselves. While I think there are other variables at play, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that women need to speak up to get ahead, or at least to be heard.
Sheryl is helping. It's a piece of the puzzle, for sure. And there's no doubt that her book and foundation will inspire other women to lean in. But we can't just leave it to the Sheryls and Hillarys of the world. We all need to accept our roles and responsibilities in helping not just to advance women, but to make it so opportunities are available and equal. For women, that means standing up for yourself. For men, it means understanding the far reaching implications of your actions.