Women in the workplace is one of THE hottest topics of the moment, especially in tech. In a traditionally male-dominated industry, it’s important that women are given a voice so that men and women can be equals. So when you see a book about working women, you feel obliged to at least read the first few pages and then (hopefully) feel inspired and empowered by the words.
There may be a stigma about ‘feminist’ writings; how they whine and whinge and generally just complain about gender discrimination we face as women in society. But this one seems a little different.
In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, released the book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. She wrote the book for women who want to achieve their career goals, and for men who want to be part of a society where both sexes are equal. Sandberg argues that barriers such as discrimination and sexism are holding women back from taking leadership roles in the workplace.
Not only are women fighting social barriers, they are also creating internal barriers for themselves through systemic discrimination and societal gender roles. Sandberg argues that the way to break down these barriers is for women to strive for leadership roles. She believes having more women in power will give them a voice at the top and will inspire more equality.
The focus is less on the female race forming a collective to break through social barriers and more on improving individual performance to reach the top. I loved the book, so let’s take a look at my top 5 take-aways from Lean In.
Sandberg states that all too often women are concerned with the fake it ‘til you make it concept. She writes that sometimes we don’t have enough belief in ourselves because we are conditioned to under sell ourselves in favour of a male counterpart. She argues we should make more time to find true belief in ourselves, because it won’t come from anyone else before it comes from you. We won’t always find it in every situation, but it’s important to know what that your input is valid and valued by your peers.
For much too long women are taught that in order to be successful you must be likeable. There still exists this archaic ideology that women should be nice in order to get what they want, whether that be asking for a promotion, a pay rise, or more recognition for their contribution to the business.
Sandberg mentions a social experiment in which two CVs describing a candidate’s business success are presented to two different groups of people. One group is presented with a CV of a female candidate and the other group has an identical CV but with a male name. Generally, the male candidate’s success was found to be appealing and the female’s bothersome.
This epitomises the age-old stereotype that women cannot be successful without being unpleasant and men rarely face this problem as their success is nearly always celebrated and not used against them. Sandberg argues that women should break through this stereotype and not be hesitant to ask for what they want; they don’t need to beat around the bush and win the affection of their employers, but rather show what they are made of and why they deserve what they are asking for.
Sandberg states that we all want to believe we can do it all and keep our sanity at the same time but unfortunately no one is superwoman. The all-important work-life balance will likely be unattainable for most of us during our career, there will always be one side that takes over for a while and then falls behind. She goes on to say that this is totally fine. No one gets through this life by doing it all on their own. That’s why we have each other; friends, family, colleagues, partners. Which brings us on to the next point..
The author writes if men and women are going to be equal we’ve got to split it all right down the middle. Relationships are partnerships which means everything is 50/50. Apparently, the happiest couples where both partners have demanding jobs are the ones who find this balance. But this divide isn’t always equal. The balance is completely flexible; there may be times when one partner is working hard and the other is focussing more on family life, but it swings both ways and will always come back to a happy medium.
Sandberg mentions that she has seen some women sacrifice career progression to raise a family and that is amazing. But she also says some women do this way before they have even begun family life. Sandberg shares accounts of some young girls who consider giving up promising career options over fears they won’t be able to raise a family in the future because of work. As a hiring manager, Sandberg states she often asks women if they plan to have a child. Not because she wants to discriminate, but rather she wants them to feel comfortable taking on a role even when they are looking to start a family.
As likeable as Sandberg is, there are times when you remember the environment she works in. You can’t help but feel this book may only offer real advice to directors and c-level, career-driven women in the corporate world. Although Sandberg does acknowledge this in the opening pages , not all of us get to rub shoulders with the world’s top execs. There’s a sense of “you can’t have it all, but I can because I’m smart and made the right decisions.”
However, I see reason in Sandberg’s trickle-down theory. Why can’t those further down the pecking order aspire to reach the dizzy heights of COO and CEO? The phrase ‘aim for the moon and you’ll land amongst the stars’ springs to mind. I may have a naïve attitude and an overly optimistic outlook but the whole premise of her book is that for us to live in a more equitable society, we need more women in leadership roles. Obviously it doesn’t happen without hard work and determination, but why not inspire those in lower-level jobs also?
You only have to look in the news to see that times are changing in the technology industry. More and more people are becoming aware of the female presence in tech and that they can do the job as well as men can. So, ladies (and gentlemen), see you at the top?
If you’re a woman who is technology savvy, or you know a woman who is, take a look at our current vacancies here.