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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Smart Girls Book Club

After working with primarily men for 30 years, I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time with women.  That could be because as we get older, women are infinitely more interesting, or it could be that I'm  subconsciously positioning myself with an alternative to the Red Hat Society once all our husbands are dead.

At any rate, I've always been a big reader, but have never been in a book club - until now:  The Smart Girls Book Club (for women with passion and purpose) meets once a quarter.  This time, we read "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg.

The room of about 30 women were accomplished and interesting - every one of us recognized ourselves in Sheryl's book and I found myself sitting in a room with some great material.  Some of the main points:
  • almost every woman in the room had been called "bossy" growing up.  (After I read that chapter in the book I called my Mom to tell her she shouldn't have called me "bossy" - she should have said "I detect leadership potential in you!")
  • Sheryl quotes a statistic that men feel they have to meet about 60% of the parameters to do a new job; women feel that they must meet or exceed every single requirement - that was consistent with most everyone's experience in the room
  • Sandberg suggests that women "leave before they leave".  Men would never consider not going after a promotion because they might want kids some day; women do it when they're just thinking about thinking about it.  (Hopefully Marissa Meyer and others are showing better examples)
Some of the other stories in the room were:

-the woman who was performing well at an accounting firm, hating it every day for 2 years.  Finally she spoke to her boss to give notice.  He said this was a mistake, the best job she was every going to have.  She said she didn't think they were a good fit; she has asked for a raise a couple of times, she knew her under-performing male counterparts were paid more, yada yada.  He asked what she was going to do - she said she didn't have anything lined up but was confident.  Two weeks later at the going-away party that they threw for her, she was holding a piece of cake when one of the under-performing male colleagues approached her to ask what she was going to do.  She said, in fact, she had a job offer in the last 2 weeks and was going to a rival firm and would be working less and making 3 times as much as she was here.  He looked at her and said, that's great, now you'll have more time to make cakes like this (pointing to her piece of cake).  She had no words, but was confident that she made the right decision to leave!

-another woman just made partner in her accounting firm earlier this year.  On April 16th, they celebrate the end of tax season with a Partners dinner.  There are 8 male partners and this woman made the 3rd female partner.  After dinner, the male managing partner announced, "great job - let's all hit the cigar bar".  This woman said, "Seriously?" - yes, seriously.  (I'm guessing that even when the managing partner is a woman, she would be too considerate of her male/female audience to announce, "great job - let's all go get pedicures!")

-a woman working for an automotive company back in the day had similar experiences to mine:  at lunch, every one of the guys had a scotch in front of them.  She regularly chose to accompany customers and male co-workers to the topless bars, since that's where her company entertained customers.

-several of us who came of age in the 70's, tell stories to younger women who have never experienced anything like we did.  They're incredulous that there was a time when a woman who was gainfully employed and wanted to buy a car had to have her husband or father co-sign for her.  

A couple of the women in the group attributed their current success to their fathers, who regularly told them they could do anything they wanted, provided that they worked hard at it.  My Dad was in the girls-don't-need-to-go-to-college-they-just-need-to-know-how-to-type camp.  (As it happens, I DO have mad typing skills, which have come in quite handy in the computer age.)  I'm embarrassed to admit college didn't even occur to me until the middle of my senior year - I was on a secretarial track and college was never discussed.  Since there was no money for a university, the deal was that if I went to community college for 2 years, I could have the Process Blue Ford Maverick with the basketball-sized rust holes in the fenders.  Not pretty but it got me back and forth from school in Dearborn and Mama Mia's restaurant.  It's probably not even possible to finance a college education with a waitress job today.  But I digress....

The point is that even though none of us in the room have a job similar to the COO of Facebook, we all shared the same journey as Sheryl Sandberg.  The goal now is to share this information with younger women AND men so that the next generation doesn't need to learn all of this the hard way.  Here's hoping that the young women coming up are confident enough to Lean In to all of the exciting opportunities available to them.