Day 233. Speaking Up

There’s been a major hullabaloo for months over Sheryl Sandberg. She’s the 44 year old Facebook COO (Chief Operating Officer), and their first female board likemember, who is championing the cause of women. Well, she’s championing and blaming. Sort of. But not really.

This week, her recently-published, first book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” tops BOTH the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists. It’s being referred to as a manifesto for women.

Her accomplishments are so many, if I tried to list them all here, this post would take you a half hour to read. To give you just an inkling of her popularity I just tried, for twenty minutes, to link to Sheryl Sandberg on

Wikipedia and finally gave up. Here’s a few highlights:

  • 1991, graduated, summa cum laude, with an A.B. in economics, from Harvard
  • 1993, earned her M.B.A. with highest distinction, from Harvard
  • former chief of staff for the United States Department of the Treasury
  • ranked one of the 50 “Most Powerful Women in Business” by Fortune Magazine, since at least 2007
  • 2011, ranked #5 on “the world’s 100 most powerful women” by Forbes
  • 2012, named in Time 100, an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world
  • her Facebook stock options and restricted stock units are reputed to be worth $1.45 billion, as of mid-May 2012
  • Oprah LOVES her. During a recent interview she gushed so much, it was beginning to make me queasy

Guess I’m a late bloomer. I’m just now getting on the bandwagon.

For some reason, I wasn’t sure I’d like her. As if she’d care. As if it matters. Weird for me to pass judgement without really knowing what someone is all about. But there you have it. So I have been ambivalent. I haven’t read the book. I haven’t read the interviews. And therefore, I didn’t really know where she was coming from.

Then Oprah interviewed her this past Sunday night. I decided to watch. And I’m glad I did (except for the aforementioned gushing).

She is far more likeable than I imagined she would be. She’s also far more ‘feminine’. Soft, even. Most important, to me was her honesty. She talked openly and unashamedly about the guilt she has when she drops her kids off at school, for example. She talked about the soul searching she’s had to do. And all the conversations she’s had with her herself, and her husband, about how they’d make their lives work; and the implications of those decisions.

But what I loved most was when she talked about her insistence on being home, every night at 6:30, to have dinner with her family.

That’s when she totally won me over.

Men do it all the time. And they’re never penalized for it. But women, that’s another story. A former head honcho colleague of mine had dinner with his wife and kids every single night. By 6:00 p.m. latest, he was gone, on his way home. Once the kids were asleep, he was happy to work all night. He was even willing to come back to the agency, which he did all the time. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING, stopped him from sitting at his dinner table.

As it should be, I think.

So I respect Sandberg for making her family as much of a priority as her career. Although why we even have to discuss it pisses me off. It’s the double standard that bugs me.

Women are considered ‘incapable’ of running companies because we need time off to have babies. Because we sometimes have to take time off to meet with teachers, or go to medical appointments with kids. Because we want to have dinner with our families, and put our kids to bed.

Men do it all the time. During the course of my career I’ve had several men who worked for me, take parental leave. In Canada women are entitled to one year off. Once the mother is back at work, the father is entitled to six weeks parental leave. And more and more men are doing it. They want to bond with their babies as much as women do. Just look at all the dads posting pictures of their kids on Facebook. Look at all the dads out with their kids at the park, at the movies, in restaurants and stores. Men today are just as involved in bringing up the kids as their wives and partners are.

Doesn’t raise questions about their ability to run companies. Or sit on boards. Get promotions and stock options. And earn huge salaries.

Double standard.

Sandberg’s position is clear. She wants to know why, thirty years after 50% of college grads in the U.S. are women, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. So she’s putting it under the microscope. She’s looking at why we’re ‘stuck’. Why we’ve made so little, if any, progress. And she’s offering up some solutions.

She’s also challenging all of us, men and women alike, to challenge the “common workplace assumption that men still rule the world”. But not before we abandon the notion of “having it all”. Sandberg says it’s impossible. Not even she has it all.

I agree. What about you?

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27 thoughts on “Day 233. Speaking Up

  1. Do you believe women are softer, more feeling? If a child is sick which parent has the desire, need, to run home and be with him? Maybe that’s too general a statement, but it seems to fit almost everyone I know, no matter how involved the father is with his children.

    • I think it’s changing. More and more I do see men rushing home when a child is sick or in trouble at achool or whatever. But who does it isn’t really the issue. Sandberg’s point is, it should not preclude a woman from having the top job if she wants it, or is capable of doing it. It has nothing to do with her ability to successfully run a company. And until women stop thinking of themselves as incapable (because that is what we have been trained to believe) we won’t grt those jobs and we won’t sit on boards. I think she’s right.

  2. Let’s try that again: one significant reason why women are stuck is that we do a terrible job helping and supporting each other up the corporate ladder. True, some women are better than others, but often, they are divided, instead of united. But what I’d like to see even more than that would be that workers bond together to get everyone out of the office by 6 pm. To eat with the family, go to the gym, attend classes, do crafts, read a book, go to happy hour, whatever. Even if it meant doing some work later on in the evening. We’d all be a lot more productive and probably happier too.

    • I agree with you. But to Sheryl Sandberg’s point maybe it is our responsibility to just do it. She says it is her rule. She just walks out the door, period. The colleague I mentioned did the same thing. I have interviewed 20 and 30 somethings who have told me they want balance. They won’t work late and on weekends like my generation have done. WE have to make our own rules, within reason of course. If we believe we can, we can. WE have been our own worst enemies, whether it comes to women’s rights to want to be CEOs or men and women who want a life in addition to a job.

      • Or because we’ve been led to believe it’s the only way to get ahead. Wrong value system. But we don’t have to buy into it.

      • That’s a whole other blog post. And it is also a good reason to become a nation of self-employed individuals who call our own shots.

      • I like the nation of free agents idea. I’d love to be able to partner with people wherever they are and not have to worry about holding companies, pre-negotiated rates/vendors, etc. Seems that in the long run the best for the job rationale would produce better results.

  3. Yes, I think the nature of workplaces must change. Why should we run workplaces in a male way? Why should women have to make themselves more like men in the workplace in order to succeed? We need to forge a new way of doing things. I like your assertion that many men take just as important a role in childcare as women. They too should be allowed flexible workplace practices, childcare leave, etc.

  4. You touch on some pretty big things here. I agree that women can’t (nor can anyone) “have it all” – at the same time. I also think we live in a world where success is only measured by money, job title and power. Some of the worst humans on the planet are ‘successful’. I can’t imagine living a life where a one hour dinner with family constitutes making family a priority.
    This is where I think current standards of success are skewered – we live in a society that puts family and personal time very low on the list of priorities, since, at least in the US, we work more and more hours for less overall pay. And we are still living with the dredges of traditionalism, where women still do most of the primary caregiving and housework – I know more men are doing it than ever, but percentage-wise, still a small minority. Instead of focusing on what women are doing wrong in terms of achieving success, we should be asking why we have a system that calls someone like Donald Trump successful.

    • It is our generation who judge success by money. Most of the young people I interviewed for jobs when I had my agency judged success by a very different standard. They want a balanced life. They have a social conscience. They worry about the homeless and the environment. So I do thing the world is changing, but monumental change can’t happen overnight.

      I didn’t mean to suggest that simply eating with your family means you put your family first. It takes more than that. But it does say that you do place importance on it. And that you are setting boundaries and parametres around what you are and are not willing to do, to have the career you want.

      And I think Sheryl Sandberg’s whole point is, women are penalized for doing it and men are not.

      I recently had a client who left the office every day at 3 o’clock to coach his son’s soccer team. Nobody batted an eye. Hasn’t impacted on his career. A woman wouldn’t get the same consideration. And she would not even get the chance to have his job.

  5. I have a lot of respect for women in business, even more so for someone who manages to balance it with their family. Frankly any woman bringing up a child, who works as well. (Not that I don’t respect stay at home mams, that’s just beside the particular point I’m making ha). I remember my mother once doing a night shift on A&E (our ER), which, in Newcastle, is no mean fete. But she still took me and my best friend to McDonald’s (huge treat back then) and to a play of Roald Dahl’s The Twits, despite being exhausted and having to work again that night. And I know countless other mothers who do similar things. One thing I hope is that I always put my family, whether my other half or my kids, before my career…but I’m such a cuddly sod I don’t think I’d ever make it anywhere in business any way! I’ll stick to my animals, thank you. Frankly a rampaging elephant would scare me less than a board meeting.
    Any way, ramble over…

  6. Fransi … just another thought to add to yours … it’s the push of the ego. It takes great inner strength to manage women or men and ultimately, society – who are driven by their egos. Plus, as you alluded to … there’s the horrible reality of working for public companies. “What have you done for me this quarter…” Short term thinking…grabby….greedy …..etc.

    I love your posts, Fransi.

    • I don’t think the ‘what have you done for me this quarter’ attitude is restricted to public companies. It happens everywhere, even in independently-owned companies. Life is all about the bottom line now. The problem is, we’ve forgotten what it takes to be successful and, in turn, to have a healthy bottom line. Thanks. Glad to hear you enjoy my blog. Long may it continue 🙂

  7. I do not think men rule the world . . . but I do know there’s nothing in the world like a mother. I know many amazing, committed, dedicated fathers. I even date one. But he’s still not a mama. 🙂

    • Mothers are unique, I agree. After all, it’s in their bellies we live for 9 months. We are fed and nurtured and cared for and kept safe by our mothers before we’re even born. Nothing can compare with that. Or replace it. But I love the fact that young men today want to share in the care and feeding and nurturing (and diapering) of their children. I love seeing dads and their kids out doing things together. I love watching these men go all soft and tender around their kids. They’ll never be a mama for the reasons I mentioned above, but they can be so much more than the guy who’s always at the office. I see dads rushing to pick their kids up at daycare, dads out for breakfast with their kids (and I mean babies and toddlers, not just teenagers), I see dads with kids in the grocery store, going into the museum, at movies. I think it’s fabulous. And the kids have to benefitting from it.

  8. You sure touched a nerve with this one, Fransi! A couple of weeks ago I watched a short television interview with Sheryl Sandberg who was making the network rounds plugging her book. I liked her too, for the same reasons you noted. I really can’t add more to the conversation here that hasn’t already been said. I do wonder though if we can ever really strike a balance in our lives. You can’t map it out because you never know what’s going to hit from day to day! We can certainly do better than we have in the past though. Great post. Well done as always

    • Thank you! I am glad you agree about Sheryl Sandberg. She is so different from what I had imagined. And you’re quite right. We never do k ow what tomorrow will bring; but we can do better. And I think if we remain ‘conscious’ about what kind of luces we want, we will do better. We have to make ourselves a priority.

  9. And then again, what is “… having it all” anyway and who does? I completely agree with you, Fransi, and I also had the same initial reaction to Sandberg until I saw her interviewed. She deserves her success and is someone worth a listen.

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