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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mildly Militant

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has recently written a book entitled, Lean In, which is generating some discussion.  Sheryl suggests that women may be holding themselves back from career advancement and I don't disagree. She is also hoping to reboot the women's movement with this book and the Lean In Foundation.  (Great info here on navigating corporate politics, finding a mentor and other tips for young women entering the workforce).

Sometimes, women are too polite - we don't want to offend, we don't want to interrupt, we're happy to take our turn and above all, we go to extremes to avoid being called the dreaded B-word.

I wear the Bitch label as a badge of honor because I know what it means:  you have strong ideas and opinions, you're decisive and results-oriented.  (There's a difference between being a bitch and being bitchy - for the record, I'm guilty of both.)  Even if you don't interrupt, you make your point known and have the audacity to expect and insist that the people around you to do what they say they'll do.

Sheryl gives some great insights on negotiating corporate politics, which dovetails nicely with a another movement to increase the percentage of women on corporate boards.  This only makes sense since women represent 51% of the population, and women make 90% of the buying decisions for most households, so why wouldn't you want that point of view represented on your board?  We've come a long way but like many "good girls", we haven't gone all the way.

Women make great leaders - we can manage all kinds of personalities, we are more concerned about results than taking credit (sometimes to our detriment) and we're good at building consensus.  Imagine what we could accomplish if more women were in government!  Here in Michigan, our first female Secretary of State streamlined processes, initiated on-line renewals and registrations and significantly improved service. Regardless of your politics or personal feelings about Hillary - put her in the White House and that bitch will get some shit done!

I'm concerned that young women who have never experienced discrimination on the basis of gender do not fully appreciate the history.  Let's not even go back as far as the Vote or Title IX  - you could just watch an episode of Mad Men to get the idea.  The year that I graduated from high school, if a woman wanted to buy a car, she needed her husband or her father to co-sign, regardless of her employment situation or income.  I'm trying to imagine the incredulous look on my niece's face today if a creditor were to suggest that her father co-sign for her.  Young women today think that "feminism" is an antiquated term and they give no thought at all to inequalities based on gender - thankfully, they haven't experienced any and just aren't aware of what was true less than a generation ago.

The reality is that we have made very little progress.  The number of women in government and corporate C-level positions has not grown in the last 10 years.  Is this because we're taking the short-cut by starting our own companies, we're not interested in making the sacrifices required to reach the C-Suite or we're not confident enough to put our own hat in the ring?

On the other hand, this could be the normal rebellious backlash that comes with every generation.  Our mothers were frustrated stay-at-home Moms; we didn't like the look of that so we went into the workforce with a vengeance.  Our daughters may not like the look of THAT and so many daughters of baby boomers are college educated, but choose to stay home and raise a family.  (And by the way, that's exactly what the women's movement was about:  choices.)

If you get a chance, look up this documentary:  MissRepresentation (.org)  It's a surprisingly shocking look at how women of power and influence are still portrayed in the media. I hope that Sheryl Sandberg and many like her are successful in the quest to reignite attention to this issue - we cannot afford any more backsliding.

Girls today really can grow up to do anything they want; let's encourage them to be all that they aspire to be without censoring themselves.

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