Not long ago, you indulged me when I wrote From Teddy Bears to Briefcases, a post that offered some first-time interviewee advice targeted at young women. In that post I mentioned that my daughter was interviewing for her first professional job and that I still had so much to teach her. Soon after she received the job offer and embarked on an internship that exceeded her every expectation. She was given challenging projects, added new skills to her portfolio, learned to handle constructive (and not-so-constructive) criticism, and now as she moves on to a new opportunity, leaves behind designs for a college dining area that will bear her mark.
Now I am reading Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, a book written for women, but valuable to either sex for its straight-forward advice about valuing your contributions. I did not have the benefit of this guidebook when I was a young professional woman in the eighties. Nor did I have it in the ’90s when I challenged my supervisors for better pay based on what the men around me were being paid. This book wasn’t out when I made a lateral move when I saw opportunity where I had none. I didn’t have her book when others saw Y2K leadership as too risk-adverse, so I stepped in. Somehow, I navigated my way through the jungle gym of the professional world, but I wonder, had I read Lean In, would I have had just a bit more confidence? Would I have placed a greater value on the skills I had to offer?
So I have decided to do two things: First, I am devoting August’s Weekly Briefs to sharing times when I leaned in and how it helped my career, and when I leaned back, hindering my forward motion. By sharing my experience I hope that people reading my posts will realize that the ability to learn is a great skill. Combine it with hard work and dedication to excellence, and you can take career risks and negotiate for appropriate compensation. To get you started, here’s a link to Ms. Sandberg’s Ted Talk:
My second task is to purchase the Graduate version of Lean In for my daughter. She has little time for reading, so it will be an audible book so she can listen while she runs. I want her to hear for herself what happens when a woman misses subtle messages in a board room. I want her to recognize that little lying voice we carry with us, the one that tells us we don’t have the experience, knowledge, grit to be a great leader. The one that repeats over and over: I’m not worthy.
At the end of Ms. Sandberg’s Ted Talk, she says, “My generation…is not going to change the numbers at the top.” I disagree. I live in the Granite State, where in the last major election we made history by sending the first all-women delegation to Washington, comprising Kelly Ayotte, Jeanne Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, Annie Kuster, and Governor Maggie Hassan, who by the way is not our first female Governor. These strong and admirable women give me hope.
While breaking the 50/50 barrier is most likely out of reach for the baby boomers (whose coattails I ride) we are at the cusp of greatness. We have years of experience behind us and can now put that learning into action. Just as women need to lean in, our age group needs to lean in. We need to recognize that age brings experience and thus we have so much left to offer. But should we not reach that laudable 50/50 goal, we still have the opportunity to mentor today’s women and make a difference in tomorrow’s numbers. We can help our daughters and our daughter’s daughters recognize the subtle cultural cues that had us leaning back and encourage them to sit at the table, and Lean In.
See these other Lean In posts: