Lean In-It’s Tougher for Women in Business

Today I was at a lunch sponsored by the Economic Club.  Facebook COO ($FB) Sheryl Sandberg spoke about her book Lean In.  Then she took some questions from Twitter.  Maybe we should have posted stuff on her wall-but I digress.

Whether you agree with what Ms. Sandberg said or not, she was extremely interesting. I have not read the book yet-but found a couple pieces of information she spoke about something I would like to push back on-and found myself nodding in agreement with other pieces, and then wanting to learn more about other pieces.

If her goal is to elevate the conversation of women in the workplace, she is doing a great job.

First the pushback. Sandberg cites statistics on women lead corporations, and the fact that over the last ten years the amount of women in top management roles at major companies has flat lined.

Is that bad or good? I don’t know. She thinks it’s bad-because in her opinion when trends flatline the next move is down. That might happen, or it could be consolidation as the next wave of women leaders make their way through the workplace. Without delving through the stats-it’s hard to know.  If the next move is up or down, who’s to say if it’s bad or good?  I hate to put value judgements on pure statistics.  My conclusion might be different than yours depending on how we are framing it and what we are looking at.  This stat isn’t like GDP.

If women drop out of the corporate workplace to do things on their own-and it’s their own choosing, that seems okay to me. What’s important is that they have the same choice as men.

I am empathetic to women in the workplace. I have two daughters, and 95% females in my extended family. My attorney is a woman.  I have backed plenty of women entrepreneurs. Dabble, Brilliant, Smarteys, and Noblivity. The angel group I co-founded has a woman managing director, women on the board, and lots of women members. Ironically, we didn’t actively recruit them-it just happened that way and the diversity has been beneficial.

By the way, I carry a Rosie the Riveter keychain, and had Rosie patches stitched to my trading jacket.  She’s iconic in more ways than one.

It is harder for women. Even with all the changes over the past 40 years, it’s harder. If you don’t think it is, I will relay one of Sandberg’s points.

If you walk into a bar and see an older man and younger man after work knocking back a few drinks and talking intimately, what’s your impression? What are you thinking?

If you walk into the same bar and see an older man and a younger women doing the same thing-what’s your impression? What are you thinking?

If you are like 99.9% of humans, you will think the second pair are having a more intimate relationship-not a mentor relationship. And that’s a problem.  Since positions of power are dominated by men, they need the freedom to be able to mentor women in the same way they mentor men.  If society pins ulterior motives on them that don’t exist, that’s not healthy.  Conversely, if the woman getting mentored is gossiped about behind her back in an accusatory way-it’s not good either.

The fact that we are having a dialogue about it and executives are being made aware of the differences between men and women will change the face of the workplace.  Merit based opportunity for women is beneficial to everyone.  Increased competition increases performance.

At the end of the lunch, I gave Ms. Sandberg my Rosie the Riveter keychain from the National World War Two Museum. Hope she carries it with her and uses it to remember where women in the workplace had their real start-and to illustrate how far American society has come.

As Sandberg illustrates, we have a ways to go-and I am not sure it will ever be the same for men and women.  There are differences between the species, and I like that there are differences.

To me, it’s great that my girls have choices unavailable to previous generations and hope that the next generation has even more choice. I appreciate what women like Ms. Sandberg have done for them.  For those at the lunch that might happen to be reading this; I have to finish it so I can start the laundry.

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