Thursday, March 14, 2013


The Good Ole Days!
A few years ago, the former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, got into major trouble for spewing this at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference:

"There's no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences. We'd love to have more women moving up faster, but they've got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one. Taking time off for family can offer a nice life,but the chances of going to the top on that path" are smaller. That doesn't mean you can't have a nice career."
Jack comes from the "Good Ole Days" era above. So we can't possibly expect him to do better. However, his comments ignited a rage in women and began that oh so pesky conversation "Can Women Have it All?" 

Four-years later and we are having the conversation again. This time we are not just asking that stupid question, but seeking to identify the root cause, and come up with common sense solutions to move past Jack Welsch's araic way of thinking. However, is the root cause Jack Welch's arcaic way of thinking, or is it the actions and inactions of women?

Facebook's Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg has the answer. However, the sharp truth she reveals has not gone over too well with some folks.

Sheryl has been on a media blitz promoting her new book "LEAN IN," where she makes a mandate to women and forces us to identify our role in the stifling of our progress. It's not Jack Welch and the likes who think like him, who've defined what it means to be a woman climbing the corporate ladder. Actually, its we women who have.

Crowd Screams -- "No Way! What did you say? Can't be so! I'm actually the reason, that I can't achieve the goals I desire. Who does Sheryl thinks she is? She's"

Of course in typical chick hating fashion, instead of taking what Sheryl has said, stopping in our tracks, and reflecting upon it, we've decided to bash her. A handful of folks have decided to take the simplistic road of a coward, to diminish the truth of Sheryl's thoughts, and declare that she can't relate because - "feel free to insert your petty reasoning here."

Sorry folks, Sheryl is right........

I am a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg! In 2012 (two-years later, yes I was late jumping on the bandwagon) I stumbled across Sheryl's 2010 TEDTALKS. I watched, and it literally changed my life. I realized that the mistakes (behaviors and decisions) that Sheryl highlighted, I was very guilty of committing myself. Ironically as I write this post, I am sitting on my sofa, full pajama gear, a box of tissues and cold medicine. I actually called in sick today. It was a big deal to me and for no damn reason. I always prided myself on not getting sick, or working through being sick. That's just stupid! Surprisingly this is a mistake that many women make in the workplace. We run ourselves into the ground chasing after our dreams. Yet, when we are in the office, we don't negotiate on starting salaries and merit increases, we turn down opportunities for fear that our future plans to start a family will negatively impact our roles, we run from challenges for fear of failure, and worst of all, we don't sit at the table. Sick and on the sidelines -- not a good look. This is what's holding us back.

Sheryl's book has prompted other leading women to speak their piece. However, this also has the media looking to pin these women against each other.  I think that this is the wrong thing to do, because these women are at very different junctures of their lives. If people stopped and really listened to what they are all saying, they would see that these women are essentially saying the same thing -- women hold the keys to defining what it means to be a woman climbing the corporate ladder. Because we hold the keys, we are the gatekeepers of the necessary change. 

Erin Callan, the former Chief Financial Officer of Lehman Brothers, recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled "Is There Life After Work?" In this piece Erin questions her own practices and how she defined success, and the "work-life" balance. Erin admits that she failed miserably. 
"I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left."
Callan also questions if her working style was responsible for her CFO position.
"I have often wondered whether I would have been asked to be C.F.O. if I had not worked the way that I did. Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn’t have to be so extreme. Besides, there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor." 
Then we have Marissa Mayer, Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo. Marissa hasn't really spoken out and tied her thoughts to Sheryl's "LEAN IN" movement, but it appears that others are looking to do that for her. Marissa made headlines in 2012 when it was announced that not only was she the new CEO of YAHOO, but she was also pregnant. Many declared that Marissa's appointment and pregnancy would be some sort of hallelujah moment in the "women's movement." That it was not, and rightfully so. In fact, whenever  you speak to Marissa about this so called "women's movement" or being a woman in corporate america, she straight up tells whomever is asking  that she is not about that "BS." Well not exactly in those words. Now I don't know the intricacies of Marissa's career and her rise, but from what i've gathered, Marissa made a conscious decision to leave stereotypes at the door, forget that she was a woman in a male dominated industry, and most importantly, take risks. Now, I haven't read "LEAN IN" in its entirety, but I get the gist of what the book is about, and what Sheryl's message is. I actually believe that Marissa has embraced the principles of "LEAN IN." Seriously folks, how many women would vie for a job, a promotion, while pregnant? 

So what Marissa shortened her maternity leave or ended YAHOO's work from home privileges for employees. Guess what? Marissa left Google, the tech giant that has consistently kicked YAHOO's ass for the last few years. Of course she needed to get back to work as soon as possible. 
At YAHOO's inception it was comprised of a small team of folks who locked themselves in a room together, to create this great company. That's called collaboration, and the company needed to get back to that mindset. The company is struggling, and when the current recipe is not working or producing the desired results, you change the ingredients or process for making it.  This is what Marissa did. Both decisions were risks and involved the principles of "LEAN IN." 

I am a member of two affinity networks at work, our Women's network and our African-American employee's network. The constant focus is also on our junior employees being in need of guidance from the more tenured employees. There are mentoring programs and all sorts partnership spread across the company. People are always saying, "oh if I could get five minutes to pluck the brain of so and so." I'm sure the same happens at Facebook, YAHOO and probably at Lehman Brother when they were still around. Yet, we have Sheryl Sandberg who writes this amazing book, and Marissa and Erin sharing their stories with us, only for us to ridicule them and discredit their experiences without taking time to think about it. This is the problem I have with women all together. We are our own worst enemy. 

Sheryl's words will have a profound effect on me, and I will carry her advice throughout my career. No matter where we are or what we are doing we should all "LEAN IN." This also means we should pull someone up with us. 

Sheryl sat down with Norah O'Donnell of 60Minutes. If you missed it check it out below, and then I encourage you all to pick up the book. I've got my copy and I'm diving in today!

Just my two cents....

1. How do you presently define being a woman climbing the corporate ladder? Jack Welch or Sheryl Sandberg's thoughts?

2. Are women holding themselves back from reaching higher points of the corporate ladder?
3. Why do women struggle with negotiating higher starting salaries and merit increases?
4. Do you agree with Marissa Mayer's decisions on her maternity leave and YAHOO's Work-from-Home policy?
5. Do you have any interest in reading "LEAN IN?"
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