• Entrepreneur of the Month

Are You Ready to 'Lean In'?


By Hope Katz Gibbs
Founder and Publisher
Be Inkandescent

Illustrations by Michael Glenwood Gibbs

“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 best-seller, “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 240-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 career and family that most women can relate to. Best of all, she provides specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment — and she 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!

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 when men receive criticism. 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.”

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, many 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.”

3. Realize Your Career Is a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder

The issue: As of 2010, the average American held 11 jobs from age 18 to 46, Sandberg explains. “This means that the days of joining an organization or corporation and staying there to climb that one proverbial ladder are gone.”

The challenge: Many women suffer from the “Tiara Syndrome,” which was coined by Negotiating Women, Inc., to explain why women don’t get the raises and promotions they want — and deserve. It turns out they expect that if they keep doing their job well, they’ll get noticed and have a proverbial tiara placed on their head, which comes in the way of the advancement they want. Rarely does this happen.

Sandberg’s solution: As Alice Walker says, “The most common way people give up power is by thinking they don’t have any.” So don’t wait for power to be offered. “And anyway,” Sandberg says, “who wears a tiara on a jungle gym?”

4. Properly Navigate the Mentorship Relationship

The issue: Sandberg shares that when she was a kid she loved “Are You My Mother?” — a children’s book that poignantly mirrors the professional question: Are you my mentor? “If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no,” she observes, noting that when someone finds the right mentor, it’s obvious.

The challenge: Unfortunately, it’s tough for young women, especially, to find mentors and sponsors, and so they are proactive in their search. But that’s not the best approach. “While I normally applaud assertive behavior, this energy is sometimes misdirected,” Sandberg says, explaining that she knows this from experience as many women approach her in hopes she’ll take on the role. “No matter how critical these connections are, they probably won’t develop from asking a virtual stranger, ‘Will you be my mentor?’”

Sandberg’s solution: “The strongest relationships spring out of real and often earned connections felt on both sides,” she insists. Plus, she notes that mentorship is often a more reciprocal relationship than it may appear. “The mentee may receive more assistance, but the mentor receives useful information, greater commitment from colleagues, and a sense of fulfillment and pride.”

5. Speak Your Truth

The issue: “Authentic communication is not always easy, but it is the basis for successful relationships at home and real effectiveness at work,” Sandberg writes, noting that most of us constantly back away from honesty to protect ourselves and others.

The challenge: “This reticence causes and perpetuates all kinds of problems: uncomfortable issues that never get addressed, resentment that builds, unfit managers who get promoted rather than fired, and on and on,” she says.

Sandberg’s solution: “Be brave and tell the truth,” Sandberg insists, pointing to the infamous speech Starbucks founder Howard Schultz gave in 2008, when he took back the helm of his company, which he had left in 2000. In it, he openly admitted that the company was in serious trouble and teared up confessing he felt he had let his employees and their families down. “Maybe someday shedding tears in the workplace will no longer be viewed as embarrassing or weak, but as a simple display of authentic emotion,” she writes. “In the meantime, we can all hasten this change by committing ourselves to both seek — and speak — our truth.”

6. Don’t Leave Before You Leave

The issue: “Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce,” Sandberg says. “Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family.

The challenge: Of all the ways women hold themselves back, perhaps the most pervasive is that they leave before they leave,” she says. Interestingly, research shows that the more satisfied a person is with her position, the less likely she is to leave her job. Of course, she realizes, this situation is complicated once kids come along and childcare becomes an issue.

Sandberg’s solution: “Anyone lucky enough to have options should keep them open. Don’t enter the workforce already looking for an exit. Don’t put on the brakes. Accelerate. Keep a foot on the gas pedal until a decision must be made. That’s the only way to ensure that when the day comes, there will be a real decision to make.”

7. Make Your Partner Your Real Partner

The issue: When a husband and wife are both employed full-time, the mother does 40 percent more childcare and about 30 percent more housework than the father, according to the 2009 research paper, “Taking on the Second Shift.” Another 2009 study found only 9 percent of people in dual-earner marriages said they shared housework, childcare, and breadwinning evenly.

The challenge: In the last 30 years, women have made more progress in the workforce than in the home, Sandberg asserts. “I have heard a few men say they were heading home to ‘babysit’ their children. I have never heard a woman refer to taking care of her own children as ‘babysitting.’ A friend of mine ran a team-building exercise during a company retreat where people were asked to fill in their hobbies. Half of the men in the group listed their children as hobbies. For most mothers, kids are not a hobby. Showering is a hobby.”

Sandberg’s solution: Empower your husband! “I have seen so many women inadvertently discourage their husbands from doing their share by being too controlling or critical — and when it comes to children, fathers often take their cues from mothers. If she acts as gatekeeper, or questions his efforts, he does less. Let him put the diaper on the baby any way he wants as long as he’s doing it himself. And if he gets up to deal with the diaper before being asked, she should smile even if he puts the diaper on the baby’s head. Over time, if he does things his way, he’ll find the correct end. But if he’s forced to do things her way, pretty soon she’ll be doing them herself.”

8. Drop the Myth of Doing It All

The issue: The allure of “having it all” is perhaps the greatest trap ever set for women, Sandberg insists, pointing to Cornell economics professor Sharon Poczter, who explains:

“The antiquated rhetoric of ‘having it all’ disregards the basis of every economic relationship — the idea of trade-offs. All of us are dealing with the constrained optimization that is life, attempting to maximize our utility based on parameters like career, kids, relationships, etc., doing our best to allocate the resource of time. Due to the scarcity of this resource, no one can ‘have it all,’ and those who claim to are most likely lying.”

The challenge: “No matter what any of us has — and how grateful we are for what we have — no one has it all. Nor can we. Trying to do it all and expecting that it can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment,” Sandberg says, directing us to this quote by feminist and activist Gloria Steinem:

“You can’t do it all. No one can have two full-time jobs, have perfect children, and cook three meals and be multi-orgasmic ‘til dawn … Superwoman is the adversary of the women’s movement.”

Sandberg’s solution: “Done is better than perfect,” is one of Sandberg’s favorite posters posted on the wall in Facebook’s offices. Another favorite quote of hers comes from the late Nora Ephron’s 1996 Wellesley commencement speech, in which the wise, passionate author insisted:

“It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: You can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.”

9. Start Talking About It

The issue: “Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go through life without being labeled by my gender,” Sandberg says, recalling when she was a congressional page in the US House of Representatives working for Rep. William Lehman and he introduced her to then Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. “He reached over and patted me on the head, then turned to the congressman and said, ‘She’s pretty.’ Are you a pom-pom girl?’”

The challenge: Sandberg realized that O’Neill was born in 1912 — eight years before women were given the right to vote. Still, she notes, it was that experience and many others that inspired her to give her first TedTalk, which went viral. “I know it isn’t easy,” she says. “The subject [of gender] presents a paradox, forcing us to acknowledge differences while achieving the goal of being treated the same.”

Sandberg’s solution: “Semantics can be important, but I don’t think progress turns on our willingness to apply a label to ourselves,” she believes. “I do think progress turns on our willingness to speak up about the impact gender has on us. We can no longer pretend that biases do not exist, nor can we talk around them.”

10. Work Together

The issue: “Despite all the gains we have made, neither men nor women have real choice,” Sandberg concedes. “Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don’t have real choice. And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don’t have real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible.”

The challenge: Unfortunately, women have not always worked together in the past.

Sandberg’s solution: “We are a new generation and we need a new approach,” Sandberg proclaims. “The more that women stick up for each other, the better. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen.” Her goal, she says, is to keep talking, and push for a shift in the world that evolves to become the one she wants for all children, including her own. “If my son wants to do the important work of raising children full-time, I hope he is respected and supported. And if my daughter wants to work full-time outside her home, I hope she is not just respected and supported, but also liked for her achievements. I hope they both end up exactly where they want to be. And when they find where their true passions lie, I hope they both lean in — all the way.”

Don’t Stop Now!

Meet 12 women who are most definitely leaning in! They are our Inkandescent clients, columnists, and on our Inkandescent Speakers Bureau and are putting Sheryl Sandberg’s tips to the test.

Read our March Tips for Entrepreneurs column.

How Are You Leaning In?

We’d love to hear from you! Send us your thoughts, bio, and photo and we’ll add it to our “Leaning In Circle” article on TrulyAmazingWomen.com. Send responses via email to: hope@inkandescentpr.com.

Here’s to harnessing your power, and your incredible, indelible, Inkandescent success! — Hope Katz Gibbs

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