A few months ago, I attended a really inspiring workshop at Omnicor hosted by Colleen McLintock (Head of People Development). The topic was Women in Leadership. We watched a 15 minute clip of a talk delivered by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg. I found this talk so inspiring that it spurred something deep inside of me, and answered as many questions as it posed. Here’s my take on Sandberg’s talk, and my own personal experience.
Not too long ago, my husband and I had an argument. I’ll eat humble pie and accept responsibility for this argument, but it was spurred on by me feeling over-burdened with work, being homemaker (which I love) as well as being mother to our two year old son (which I ADORE!). Now, I can’t even remember what we fought about (typical), but the overarching theme was that I remember feeling overwhelmed by the many hats I have to wear: being ruthless in business, being a chef in the kitchen, and being the best mommy on earth to my boy. However, after watching Sandberg’s talk, I realised I wasn’t fighting with my husband. I was fighting with society.
You see, it’s an unspoken rule that women in careers are still expected to be homemaker sand mothers. Well – naturally I guess. We as females are lucky to have been emancipated from our subservient roles in Westernised society. However, of all the people in parliament in the world, 13% are women. In the corporate environment, those at the top who occupy board seats, only 16% are women. Why?
Sandberg makes a comment that during one of her literary course, her friend and she studied for hours on end for their final paper, whilst her brother read a chapter here and there. After their exam, Sandberg and her friend commented on how much better they could have done, whereas her brother exclaimed “I aced that paper”. Why is it that women attribute their success to external factors like luck, working really hard or just being at the right place at the right time? However our male counterparts believe in their success because they’re, well, awesome.
There are no clear cut answers, unfortunately. And now avoid sounding like a raging Feminist, it’s not our male counterpart’s fault. It may be OUR fault as a collective society. Or perhaps as women, the fault lies mostly with us?
I remember when I was about eight months pregnant, I visited my old work place, and upon seeing me, my ex-boss commented “oh I see we are a lady of leisure these days”. The reality was that I was still working in my management role and consulting after hours to build up my business. However, her comment stuck with me. It appears we as women are as tough on each other as we are on ourselves.
There's a famous Harvard Business School study on a woman named Heidi Roizen. She's an operator in an American based company and she uses her contacts to become a very successful venture capitalist. In 2002 a professor (at Columbia University) took that case and made it [Howard] Roizen. He gave the case to two groups of students. He changed exactly one word: "Heidi" to "Howard” for one of the groups. He surveyed the students, and the good news was the students (both men and women) thought Heidi and Howard were equally competent. The bad news was that everyone liked Howard. He's a great guy. You want to work for him. You want to spend the day fishing with him. But people were unsure of Heidi. She seems a bit bossy. She's a little political. We’re not sure we'd want to work for her. It seems that for those women who do reach for the promotion; who do work hard to get to that board room seat – we may be disliked, gossiped about -but WE (as women) may be the ones who are contributing to the stereotype.
Another interesting personal experience I have is in my everyday work. I do immersions (role-plays) on an almost daily basis for candidate selections. The role I take on for a large proportion of the immersion is that of a self-assured, confident, successful individual (remember, the candidate is never briefed if the person they are about to encounter is male or female, as unisex names such as Jordan or Lee are used in the brief). However, upon entering the room (and I would at least like to hope I look female), the candidate still insists on calling me Mr. So and so. In fact, it happened yet again today.
So where to from here? There is no quick and easy fix. I think to those (male or female) who see women who become mothers as no longer as vested in your company, I ASSURE you: in my experience and from what I have seen, mothers are committed, passionate and loyal employees. Why? Because we want to provide our children with the very best.
And to you, my female counterpart: having a career or being a mother or wife does not have to be mutually exclusive. You can do both. Let’s encourage our sons AND daughters to be great. Let’s keep on striving for equality.
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