Should We All “Lean In”? Yes. AND!

It was an honor to write the post below for  Womenetics! ” It is a globally recognized center of influence regarding gender diversity and women’s leadership. Driven by the belief that women’s full engagement is an imperative for economic prosperity, Womenetics’ mission is to develop, support and inspire female leaders to create an impact in their fields.  WOO HOO! I encourage you all to  join the conversation, visit www.womenetics.com, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @womenetics.

41W7fmW7F+L._SY320_Should We All “Lean In”? Yes. AND!

Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” the part feminist manifesto, part how-to career guide that hit shelves this past week has got everyone talking. It seems the world – or at least 20 to 40-year-old career minded women in the U.S. – is hungry for this kind of advice.

A recent USA Today article calls the book, “a lucidly written, well-argued and unabashedly feminist take on women and work, replete with examples from the author’s life. It draws on the ideas of no less an icon than Gloria Steinem, a Sandberg friend, and on recent research highlighting the double binds women face as they negotiate the corridors of power.”

The TIMES published an exclusive excerpt by Sheryl Sandberg on why she wants women to lean in. The take home point from the article: “It is time for us to face the fact that our revolution has stalled. A truly equal world would be one where women ran half of our countries and companies, and men ran half of our homes. The laws of economics and many studies of diversity tell us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our performance would improve.”

Statistics don’t lie, and today there is an enormous body of compelling evidence that proves that when boardrooms and companies diversify, performance and return on capital improve. That fact alone is what has helped to inspire and fuel my life’s passion regarding the importance of women’s advancement. In fact I just did a whole TED talk on the subject.

However, the above examples are just a fraction of what has been written about “Lean In” and Sandberg, and the picture this debate has painted is appalling in its implications. CNN published a piece about how Sandberg herself, and not the content of the book, has come under the most scrutiny, while Anna Holmes of the New Yorker outlined the scathing backlash that “Lean In” has prompted. Indeed, the criticisms have come fast and furious from all directions, from outright claims of failure, to those skeptical of Sandberg’s true intentions.

Gallingly, Holmes notes that many of these detractors, so quick to criticize, had not even read the book before writing their condemnations. Clearly Sandberg has hit a nerve, and sadly the response so far has only served to further expose just how deeply entrenched sexism is in today’s world.

Perhaps Paul Krugman put it best when he said that the response to “Lean In” reveals how “unprepared we are to have women as a full part of our society.” The attacks on Sandberg’s credibility as an advocate for women expose the sad reality that successful and ambitious women are still viewed as an anomaly instead of something to which many women can aspire. A recent study found that the more successful a man becomes, the more he is liked, while the more successful a women becomes, the more she is disliked.

Sheryl Sandberg may be one of the most powerful and wealthiest women in the world, enjoying privileges that most women can only dream of, but this does not invalidate her story or her message. With “Lean In” and its accompanying Lean In Circles movement, Sandberg is encouraging women to step up, to take an active role in their lives, and to create a social network of encouragement and support that will hopefully reach women in all walks of life. This is something that should be celebrated, not attacked.

Sheryl is using her unique platform to tell her truth. It is our choice whether or not to listen. That said, I think there is a lot more to the question “Why are women not succeeding in business at a higher rate?”

I worked at Goldman Sachs for fourteen years and experienced many a ‘lean in ‘ moment. You can read my story on the Lean In website. This platform was created as a global space for women to share their stories and to be inspired to lean in to their ambitions. My story is about the day I did the biggest trade of my career. In fact, it made my career. I sold over a billion mortgage-backed securities to one client.

Though I was able to achieve incredible success at a very young age, what was true for me was not true for many other women. What I personally witnessed was not women not trying, but rather women not being given the same opportunities to succeed as their male counterparts. In my recent TED talk I addressed the main reasons that are given for why women have failed to progress.

The reasons so often cited fall into the following buckets:

  • Not enough women and minorities are available and entering with the “right” backgrounds to prepare them for a career in finance – the pipeline issue
  • Women “opted out” because of the long hours, family demands and travel – the worklife/motherhood issue
  • They were not good at their jobs – the performance issue
  • They were not being mentored or helped along the way – the sponsorship issue
  • And lastly, and harder to frame or explain or target, they just seemed to encounter various bumps or barriers due to differences in expectations, style, attitudes – or otherwise put norms – the other issue

As you can see we women, we have a lot of issues. After last week we now have another issue to add, the “leaning in” issue. Do women need to step forward and not away? Of course. Have I seen women “leave before they leave”? Yes. But to me the bigger challenge, the much bigger challenge is the last one I listed.

In most large firms dealing with women’s ‘issues’ was framed diversity as a problem that needed to be solved, rather than as an opportunity that needed to be embraced and empowered. So what firms did, are still doing, is by and large aimed at the first four buckets. Address the pipeline, fix the women, help them navigate the system and offer flex-time options.

Let me be clear: All of that has helped and should be celebrated, but increasingly I became fixated with the system itself. Fixated on the ‘other issues’, issues which were deeply embedded in belief systems and unconscious biases and norms, which lead to gender stereotyping, but were much harder to see and address. At the heart of it was a dominant belief in a properly working meritocracy, when really it heavily favored those who fit a particular mold.

So, in 2002 I left Goldman, where I had been working for 14 years, and that had given me first hand knowledge of the challenges in reaching a critical mass of women in leadership. I left for many, many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that I got very tired and very frustrated trying to create the shift that was needed to truly make progress. That shift is not seeing women as the problem, but the solution. That shift is in acknowledging that the playing field is not on its own level, and that you must work very intentionally to make it that way.

That’s why I celebrate, truly celebrate, that Sandburg put herself out there with the clear intention of helping women. Read away and lean away. But know that chances are the company you are working for, the system itself, needs to work a lot harder to ensure that your efforts are fully recognized, valued and rewarded. Leadership needs to be held accountable for creating as much transparency in the workplace as possible, so that true talent and hard work gets its just reward.

TEDxWomen – STRAP IN – For Gender Equality

It was such an honor to be a speaker at TEDxWomen last night in Washington, DC.  I spoke along side a group of amazing women authors, activists, entrepreneurs, and leaders in the thematic segment  – “Poverty and Plenty.” Here it is on live stream – I think about 40 minutes in.

Preparing for and delivering this speech was truly one of the most challenging things I have ever  done. I have 26 iterations of the speech saved on my computer and  the one I gave looks NOTHING like the one I started with. The one I started with was about MAKING THE CASE FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS. The one I ended with was CASE CLOSED – LET’S JUST DO IT! I came to realize while writing this speech that this was the end of my journey of trying to explain why the world is the way it is, and  it is now ALL about making it what I want it to be. Below please find a brief summary of my 15 minute talk that I somehow managed to completely memorize.  ( despite my 15 year old son’s advice that memorizing is not a good thing!)

 

My talk used the metaphor of a ROLLER COASTER to describe my journey, my ride, to try to create a more gender balanced world. I explained how I STRAPPED IN, and issued a call to action for others to STRAP IN with me.

It has been 10 years since I left my position as  partner and managing director at Goldman Sachs, where in 1996 I was the youngest women and first female trader to be made partner.  I am so grateful to Goldman for the incredible opportunities they gave me, so grateful, and for helping me to find my life’s passion and purpose. That experience helped me to understand the challenges women face to reaching critical mass in leadership and more broadly.  It also helped me to get the financial grounding I need to be able to think about how we can more fully use all our financial resources to create a more gender balanced world.

 

In my talk I give FOUR reasons why I think we are about to TAKE OFF for greater gender equality around the world, and  give FOUR things we all can do to  help accelerate this positive change.  I plan on turning my speech in to a book and a web platform so please send comments and ideas related to the below. Feel free to post comments or email me purse [email protected] (that is the name of my original blog…)

 

The FOUR REASONS

  1. We now have a critical mass of research, facts, and evidence that narrowing gender gaps is good for business and good for economic growth. Given what trying times we are in we cannot miss the opportunity that comes from investing in women and girls. ( see my resource section)
  2. It is no longer just women who are standing up for our rights, but increasingly men are right there with us. This is about fairness and justice for all.
  3. Technology is allowing us to share information, connect, organize and mobilize more effectively and deliberately than ever in the history of the world. Technology is shifting power from the concentrated few to the masses. Technology is democratizing power and that is a very good thing!
  4.  Increasingly people, and  I hope especially women,  are using all their financial resource- giving dollars,  investing dollars, spending dollars – in greater alignment with their vison to create a more just, equitable and sustainable world. Huge potential!

So what can you do to accelerate change?

 

INVEST WITH A GENDER LENS: Investing with a gender lens means making investment decisions that benefit women and girls.  Criterion Ventures is leading the way in framing gender lens investing– visit there site “Women Effect Investments” for a plethora of information, resources and guides to get you started.  The Pax World Global Women’s Equality Fund , which I am honored to serve on the Advisory Board for,  is a mutual fund that invests in large companies around the globe that are leaders in promoting gender equality and women’s advancement. I am also an investor in  Golden Seeds, which funds women entrepreneurs.  So much more to come on this topic!

GIVING TO WOMEN AND GIRLS (WOMEN’S FOUNDATIONS): Giving to non-profit organizations that work on behalf of women’s and girls is critical and especially consider supporting women’s foundations, who understand that women’s rights are human rights and there is no short term solution or silver bullet that will solve gender inequality. The Women’s Funding Network is a fantastic resource for finding women’s foundations to get involved with and consider supporting THEM as well.  Link to 170 women’s foundations around the globe.  I support so many it is tough to list just a few but my favs – The Global Fund for Women ,  The New York Women’s Foundation, and The Ms. Foundation for Women.  The Half the Sky Movement which includes a documentary film (based on the book ) has partnered with a number of organizations that support the advancement of women’s right world wide (Click here for list of partners).  Also visit Catapult a super cool website that allows people to upload their projects that support women and girls that are in need of funding.

 OUR PURCHASING POWER: What we buy and whom we buy from are some of the most important decisions we make every day. Seek out products and services from companies who do more then just make stuff to make money, but who also make a difference. Globally, women control an estimated $20 trillion in consumer spending, so imagine if we used our purchasing power to create the change we want to see in the world. Buy from women owned businesses and especially those that provide financial resources to those MOST in need. Need help finding a woman owned business? Visit feminist.com and see their market place for a huge list of women owned businesses. Prosperity Candles empowers women, from places of conflict, to create independent candle enterprises that enable them to move beyond survival and to thrive. Same Sky   a trade-not aid- jewelry initiative that employs and empowers HIV positive women in Africa as artisans. Plum Alley is a site where you can buy products from female founded companies that represent substance and discipline in creation and beauty. Rising International promotes ownership of craft-based business for women in impoverished areas.Visit my Pinterest page for more women owned businesses, and books written by women.

The ability to use economic rewards ( we buy stuff) and enact economic consequences (we don’t buy stuff) are the most underused tools we have to enact social change. I feel particularly passionate about the issue of women’s representation on corporate boards ( see two blog entries below), and IMAGINE IF we stop buying products and services from companies do not have a critical mass of women!  2020 Women on Boards has a Gender Diversity Directory   which is an extensive database of public and private companies that includes information about board composition. Did you know Urban Outfitters, Inc. does not have a single woman on their board? I REFUSE to shop there and encourage you all to walk in the store, ask for the manager, tell HER why you will not buy anything there, and walk out.  For goodness sake Men’s Warehouse even has one woman on their board… (not good enough to purchase from them but you get the idea). Other companies with just one woman on their board according to the site  –  Bed Bath and Beyond, Zales, and American Eagle. Companies with a critical mass of women on their boards? Macy’s, Coach and Target.  For Ann, Inc. (Ann Taylor) women represent 38% or more of the board.  There are HUNDREDS of companies listed so check out the site and see if your favorite company proportionately represents women on their board and if they are not, make the conscious choice to find a company that does! A recent article on 20 Firsts highlighted 5 CEOs who are making their organizations and leadership teams more gender balanced in a sustainable way. YES we need an AP for that!! Can you do it? If so email me….

STORIES: Stories are one of the most powerful tools we have to change the world. Tell you own story and support all efforts that lift up the stories of women and girls that are too often marginalized and silenced. Here are some GREAT docs to buy or rent!! Preferably – BUY!  Half the Sky  – based on the best selling book. Ready To Fly the story the US women’s ski jumping teaming fighting for parity and to compete in the Olympics and the first film I Executive Produced!! Ms. Representation , which highlights how women in main stream media are underrepresented in positions of power and influence in America. Invisible War a a powerful film about the epidemic of rape with in the US Military that premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival. I am a financial supporter of all these amazing films!   To find more  incredible documentary films that use the power of story to have a social impact check out –  Impact Partners, Chicken and Egg Pictures, and The Fledgling Fund. Also sign up for Women and Hollywood blog to get the most up-to-date news on films produced, directed and written by women.

I must sign off as I am rushing BACK to TED women for DAY two!!! Please excuse typos and more as I was really rushing to get this out for everyone who saw the talk and wants to do something now!!

 

 


 

Ted Women – part two

 Yes can you believe it.  An unannounced speaker to TEDxWomen was none other than THE Barbara Streisand. Sure I think it is cool meeting celebrities, but Barbara is beyond a celebrity to me.  When I was a young girl I used to play her music, cradling the album cover in my hands, and sing to her.  “The Way We Were” could possibly be my fav film. Her and Robert Redford.  Remember that scene where he fell asleep at the bar and with those long fingers she pushed his hair aside. Magical.

She was at TED to talk about “Women and Heart Disease” and introduce Dr. Noel BaireyMerzis, the director of the Cedars-Sinair Women’s Heart Center.  That will be the topic of a future blog entry but suffice it to say it is the leading cause of death for women.  Let’s imagine for a minute that heart disease gets the attention and funding it deserves. Imagine.

My hat is off to Pat Mitchell for a truly spectacular day.  Spectacular. Last year in Washington was amazing but I have to say, this was better. The diversity of the speakers and performers was off the charts.  It ranged from the three girls who recently won the GOOGLE science awards, to the legendary Jane Fonda. Al told there were over 30 speakers and my head is exploding with after thoughts. If that were not enough Debbie Reynolds was at the Paley Center giving an intimate tour of her costume collection that was there for display and auction.  She is almost 80 years old and so charming, and funny, and well, just delightful.  It was indeed a very special day.