In my earlier post, How Women are Changing Technology, a blog reader asked instead how technology could change the lives of women who continue to butt up against the very real glass ceiling. It’s a complicated question, and not one with a straightforward answer, but nevertheless one that is always on my mind.
I was lucky enough to attend the Women in Technology (WIT) Luncheon and the first annual IAMCP Global Women in Technology Summit at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference this past week in Houston, Texas. I am excited to share some of the amazing stories and insights I gained from the conversations and meetings with some talented, smart and inspired women, but first I want to comment on a theme that was present across the board, an overwhelming endorsement of the messages presented in the book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. While there is not a secret formula to breaking down the “glass ceiling,” Lean In is a refreshing perspective and one that I believe points us in the right direction.
Sandberg starts her book with a very blunt statement. Men still run the world. Only 17 of the 195 independent countries in the world are led by women and only 21 Fortune 500 companies are run by female CEOs. Roadblocks like family leave, time to care for children, and flexible hours continue to deter women from reaching these leadership positions. But, as Sandberg also writes, because there are few women in power, changes to family policies and the like are going to be slow to change.
It’s a chicken-and-egg argument: Policies will only change when women are in charge. Women will only become leaders once policies change.
What does Sandberg suggest? Lean in.
As she writes, “Throwing up our hands and saying ‘It can’t be done’ ensures that it will never be done.” Instead, she asks that all women consider their careers as highly as men do if that’s what they eventually want. She asks women that want those leadership roles to lean into the work that juggling a family and a job will require. Just as importantly, she asks men to become active and equal participants in family and home care.
Since changes in government and corporate policy will be slow, of course, Sandberg spends much of the book discussing what women can do now to increase their chances of taking on larger leadership roles. While there are societal constraints that limit women from becoming more successful, Sandberg also comments that those constraints have influenced women’s personal actions and attitudes as well.
In a study done at Carnegie Mellon, 57% of male graduates negotiated for a higher salary in their first job. Only 7% of women did the same.
Sandberg pushes for these changes because as she writes, “If more children see fathers at school pickups and mothers who are busy at jobs, both girls and boys will envision more options for themselves.” Lean In advocates for more options for everybody—whether it’s a woman who wants to stay at home with her children or pursue her career. Both options are great, as long as they’re both available for every woman.
Now, I want to hear from you. Sandberg has received many comments on her book—some citing her unrealistic expectations for working class women and some praising her for looking past the challenges and putting together a plan for action. What do you think?
Don’t have time to read the book? Watch Sandberg on her Ted Talks via YouTube: Why we have too few women leaders. Spoiler alert, you will be inspired!
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