Over ambitious, over enthusiastic, career oriented, whatever you want to call it, in my professional presence I’m demanding and more than a little pushy. It’s a common fact that’s often touted around at family and friend get togethers, so I wasn’t overly surprised (although still delighted) when my little brother gifted me Sheryl Sandbergs ‘Lean In’ for Christmas this year. After adjusting out of my thoughts on reading as being mostly a wind-down-and-relax kind of activity, I found the book inspiring, and have had an amazing time discussing it with every woman I have met since.
For those who haven’t read the book yet (and I wholeheartedly recommend that you do), Lean In is the learnings of Sheryl Sandberg as she rose to the position of COO of Facebook, via Google, and the lessons that she learnt, particularly centred around women in leadership positions within the corporate environment. It covers a huge variety of relevant issues, including being “bossy” and a “bitch” in the workplace, as well as issues relating to “having it all” as a wife, mother and powerful employee.
That’s all well and good, and you could probably pull that information off the book dust jacket. But what did I personally take away from the book? What did I learn in the hours spent reading this book on my commute?
1. Lets talk about (women in power) baby, lets talk about you and me.
The most important lesson from the book that I took away was the need for women, at all stages of their careers, to open up and talk about the issue. Talk about your fears, talk about the decisions you are looking to make, ask the questions of the women who are leading (and hopefully mentoring) you in your career. There is nothing taboo here – it’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone how they found having kids and juggling a job, without suggesting that one or the other suffered. It’s not taboo for us to discuss pregnancy, or the presence of a boys club in a work place. And it’s incredibly important and necessary that we bring up the topic of women in management positions within the company. Only by opening up the dialogue can we really understand that we are not alone in this experience, and can we truly create an honest place for ourselves in the corporate world.
2. Take the Opportunity.
Whether its sitting at the head of the table in a meeting, pushing your point in a high-risk strategic conversation, or even putting yourself forward for a promotion. Take the chance to direct your own career, don’t take a passive role and wait for the opportunity to come to you. Mean want you say and say what you mean, particularly when it comes to your professional development.
I was personally able to put this into practice recently, and when asked about my salary in new job negotiations, I confidently said that it wasn’t enough. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared or nervous, but it was the truth, and I was able to articulate that. Imagine what could happen with your own career or personal finances if you were able to be honest, and if you took the opportunity to speak up.
3. Women for Women.
We need to support other women in our work places. Whether its agreeing (honestly) with another women’s opinion vocally, giving credit where credit is due, or refusing to partake in general bitchiness, we need to be there for each other. The only way that women (or any team really) can grow and develop a strong standing within an organisation is to be a team, have each others back and be on our own side. We simply cannot get drawn into underhanded tactics out of fear of sticking out.
4. They say behind every great man is a great woman.
I disagree with this statement. Along side every great person (man or woman) is their partner, and Sheryl could not have been more open or honest and appreciative of the role that her husband has played in her success. Human beings actively choose their mate and their life partner, and in that choice we are accepting that this person is our equal, brings some important skills and attributes to the table. So it’s incredibly important that we let these people be partners in every aspect of our lives, from careers to mortgages to raising kids and as a support mechanism. A partner is not another child to care for, or someone that you have to be a father figure for.
5. Finally… Life. It’s what WE make it.
The most important thing to remember in life, and particularly in your career, is that every move we make is a choice. You decide to take a less “exciting” job because its going to offer your family more stability? That’s great! You decide to really push yourself up the corporate ladder because its something you have always wanted to do, that’s also amazing! You decide that working in the home to support your kids or your husband/wife is the best decision for your family? Fantastic. The ability to choose is what was fought for through the 1960s and 1970s, not the ability to be shackled into a different representation of the female identity.
Whether you are a man or a woman, whether its sitting at the table, making your voice heard, taking the opportunity or owning the decisions you have made with your life; the only person that is holding you back, is you. So go and grab these opportunities, take them with both hands, and lean in.
If you have read the book and have some opinions, I would love you to share them! I want to open up the conversation myself, and I’m very aware that this can be quite a contentious topic! So put your two cents in the comment box below, or on my Facebook or Twitter page.