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The Fight for Women, Work, and the Will to Lead: Are You Ready to 'Lean In'?

JUNE 2013: THE ART OF LEANING IN

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Founder and Publisher
Be Inkandescent

“Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry—which means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives,” explains Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in her bestseller, “Lean In.”

An extension of her wildly popular December 2010 TedTalk, Sandberg has turned her initial 15-minute-and-28-second snapshot of the issue into a 187-page showstopper that not only examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled—it has galvanized us in ways perhaps more profound than the Atlantic Monthly article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” by Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Why has it struck such a chord with so many of us? Because the woman who is ranked on Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, and is one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, admits she sometimes feels like a fraud. She perseveres anyway.

And that’s the beauty of her book, which takes less than two hours to gobble up, for Sandberg’s story is all of our stories. In it she recounts her decisions, mistakes, and her daily struggles to balance work and career that most women can relate to. Best of all, she provides specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment—and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace, and at home.

How are you standing up, raising your voice, and leaning in? Scroll down for some of the highlights from Sandberg’s 10 Tips for Leaning In. You’ll also hear from some female entrepreneurs, futurists, and authors on the Inkandescent Speakers Bureau, who share their insights and ideas on what it means to lean in. We know you’ll be inspired by how these powerful women are rising to the occasion—because you can, too!

Here’s to pushing past our fears—and standing up! Illustrations by Michael Gibbs.

1. Sit at the Table.

The issue: “Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills,” Sandberg says. “Ask a woman the same question and she will attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because she ‘worked really hard,’ or ‘got lucky,’ or ‘had help from others.’” Similarly, when a man fails, he points to factors such as his lack of time studying or lack of interest in the subject. When a woman fails, she’s more likely to say it was due to her lack of ability.

The challenge: It turns out that when women receive criticism, their self-esteem and self-confidence drop to a much greater degree than men’s does. What’s worse, Sandberg shares, is that “the internalization of failure and the insecurity it breeds hurt future performance, so this pattern has serious long-term consequences.”

Sandberg’s solution: “In order to continue to grow and challenge myself, I have to believe in my own abilities. I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud. And I still sometimes find myself spoken over and discounted while men sitting next to me are not. But now I know how to take a deep breath and keep my hand up. I have learned to sit at the table.”

How are you sitting at the table?

The CEO of Pantheon Chemical, Laura Roberts says:

Women not only have to sit at the table, they should feel compelled to push and encourage more women to be at the table—as leaders. The world has slowly shifted in the right direction as more women have had the ability and the courage to step into leadership positions. As the number of women leaders multiply, outcomes improve. Period.

Speaking from experience, I can say that I have known what it feels like to be discounted. Fortunately, things have changed dramatically for me since I founded Pantheon Chemical. What I now know is that self-limiting stories held me back, and my hope is that by leading by example I can encourage other women to push past their own fears.

There are so many issues challenging us today: Social justice, environmental sustainability, economic, and geopolitical. Yet, take a good look at where the solutions are developing. It is evident that when women are at the table and are equal to men, the solutions come more quickly.

Clearly, women not only deserve a seat at the table—men and women both need to believe their presence at the table is extremely important for all future generations. Otherwise, we may just get more of the same.

Click here to listen to our podcast with Laura Roberts.

2. Understand Why Women Struggle With Success.

The issue: Known as the 2003 “Heidi/Howard Study,” Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and NYU professor Cameron Anderson found that when a man is successful, he’s liked by men and women. When a woman is successful, both genders like her less. Sandberg says: “I believe this bias is at the very core of why women are held back—and why women hold themselves back.”

The challenge: Sandberg realizes most women haven’t heard of the Heidi/Howard Study, or been told about the downside of achievement. Still, she says that we’re aware that when a woman acts forcefully or competitively, she’s deviating from expected behavior. “If a woman pushes to get the job done, if she’s highly competent, if she focuses on results rather than on pleasing others, she’s acting like a man—and if she acts like a man, people dislike her,” Sandberg states, noting that to avoid this negative reaction, women temper their professional goals.

Sandberg’s solution: She points us to the philosophy of Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, who has spoken publicly about the success and likeability quagmire in reference to the cost of speaking her mind. The reason is simple: She knows that when she does, she will inevitably offend someone. “Arianna’s advice is to let ourselves react emotionally and feel whatever anger or sadness being criticized evokes—then move on.”

How are you balancing your desire for success with your yearning to be liked?

Author of “Selling with Noble Purpose,” sales expert Lisa McLeod says:

Sheryl Sandberg confirmed what we already knew in our hearts to be true: When you step into power, you forfeit your chance of being voted Ms. Popular.

Still, it hurts. As women, the desire to be liked is hardwired into the most primal part of our brains. Throughout history, ancient history as well as much of the last century, success for men meant power, success for women meant attracting the right mate. The desired to be liked drives much of our childhood and adolescent behavior.

And that’s where it should stay, in our youth. As we come into our own, women—and men, too, for that matter—need to focus on contributing more than like-ability. Years ago young girls felt they had to hide their smarts behind a pretty smile. Thankfully, today, most people no longer subscribe to the false dichotomy of brains versus beauty.

When women had the guts to own their smarts, things started to change. The same thing will happen with power and likability. As more women act forcefully, and own their power, it will become the norm. Men don’t worry that lesser performers will dislike them for displaying competence. Women shouldn’t either. You can be graceful and forceful at the same time. Generations before us had much more challenging obstacles to overcome. My grandmother marched with Susan B. Anthony for women’s right to vote. If she could do that, I’m not going to complain about jumping over one of the last few hurdles.

Click here to read Lisa McLeod’s column.

DON’T STOP NOW! Click here to read 8 additional tips from Sandberg, and meet more women who are leaning in.

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