By Dave Crisp
We can probably trust Sheryl Sandberg is happy with the firestorm surrounding her since it will undoubtedly bring tremendous attention to her new book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.
Like many who are commenting, I haven’t read it — yet. Unlike many, I’m open about that. I suspect if I wait for the library copy it might take two years or more. I believe those who say it reflects essentially what she says in her TED talk, but I’ll likely buy it anyway since the proceeds go to her great cause of encouraging women to more leadership. I still don’t feel comfortable commenting on the book directly, but I’m more than happy to get into the fray on everyone’s comments.
In short, I think she’s dead on. It’s foolish to criticize her for being a rich executive who is married and can afford daycare. She got herself there and is encouraging others to do the same, so what?
Do we refuse to read Jack Welch’s books because he’s married and could afford not only daycare but to buy most of us outright? No, of course not. We just want to know how he did it, so why does that make Sandberg’s contribution less valuable?
Should we wait until a welfare mom with six kids she raised on her own becomes COO of Facebook? That could take a while. It’s obvious not every woman could, or would want to, follow the path to the big corporate office, but enough should to make the ratio between men and women in the senior ranks 50:50. That's not the ratio, so we absolutely need someone who has done it to tell us how and give her opinions of why more aren’t.
What the heck is wrong with a young woman from a family where dad’s an ophthalmologist and mom quit to raise kids working hard and being smart enough to get into and succeed so well at Harvard that a professor becomes a mentor? Do men not get that support? What’s wrong with impressing bosses and prospective hiring managers so well with your credentials, attitude and track record that they hire and promote you? Isn’t this the dream?
So why the firestorm suggesting we shouldn’t pay attention to career advice from someone who has managed one of the more ideal progressions? Why treat her remarks as if they came from someone daddy put in charge of his billion dollar company just because she’s family? That seems to be tenor of much of the criticism.
Of course, Sandberg isn’t speaking for every woman. No one can, any more than a male CEO could speak for every man, for artists, for entrepreneurs, for people who have no interest whatsoever in corporate success. But as a reasonable representative of what is essentially the first generation of women finally arriving purely on their own merits as men do — albeit in small numbers — in top leadership roles, Sandberg deserves to have a say and we need to listen if we are ever to gain the equal benefit of this group to add valuable diversity of approach, thinking and contributions.
My experience and observations agree with Sandberg completely — men tend to inflate their views of themselves a little to a lot, certainly deciding not to take a back seat at the very least. They mostly assume they have what it takes to do the next higher job and usually a few more levels above that and they often volunteer.
Oddly they still share with female executives like Sandberg the occasional moment when they fear they haven’t got what it takes, but they brush those thoughts aside a lot more easily. Women, on the other hand — the ones I’ve worked with — almost invariably tend to feel they may well not have what it takes or that family will prevent them, and many dwell on these.
Do they need a bit more support, coaching, encouragement to overcome that? Almost certainly and so do some men. If this brings more attention to the earlier book by Anne Doyle, Powering Up, which has many action-oriented bits of advice for different ways to get by these problems, even better.
If it takes a firestorm to get things moving, so be it. Just sad where a lot of it comes from — people who should know better.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.