In her incredible TED talk, Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO with a distinguished resume including Harvard, the World Bank, McKinsey & Google) explains why so few women get to the C-suite, whether in the corporate or non-profit sector. Of all the members of parliament worldwide, 13% are women. Women only make up 15-16% of the top corporate management, and only 20% of the top non-profit positions.
Her message and argument rings true to my heart. She offers three crucial pieces of advice for women:
- Sit at the table: Women often fail to sit at the table, literally but also metaphorically. Women are often underestimating themselves, and lack the same confidence as men in many professional situations. As women, we need to stop pulling back and we need to ask for what we want – whether it’s a raise, a promotion, a new job, or a business deal. (This is one of the reasons I write this blog, to be honest. Often, I’ve wondered if this blog is too “self-promotional” but then I realize: perhaps I thought of stepping back because as a woman, it’s hard for me to put forward my thoughts. So, I kept writing.) While it’s easier to put myself out there on the Internet, I’ll admit it still sometimes scares me to “sit at the table.” Men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate their first salary. Women systematically underestimate their professional worth and their abilities. I see this firsthand not only in myself, but in my peers. How can we get women to believe in their talents more?
- Make your partner a real partner: Women still do twice the amount of housework and three times the amount of child care as men do in the home. While holding a full time job, often. Sandberg argues that we, as a society, need to become more accepting of stay-at-home dads too – it’s not necessarily that men are unwilling to stay home, care for the kids, or pitch in for household chores – it’s perhaps more insidious; we, as a society, still place gender-based expectations on men. We, as a society, still don’t look so kindly upon men who sacrifice their career to spend more time at home. There is much truth to this assertion.
- Don’t leave before you leave: Finally, Sandberg notes that many women start “mentally” preparing themselves to leave the workforce long before they have children – often, even before they tie the knot. Women often try to plan for years down the road, thinking to themselves, What will I do when I have children? How will I manage this career? It’s a very subtle way of thinking, but it sets women back step by step, slowly preventing them from reaching for that next promotion or the job with a greater workload or responsibility. Women need to stay in the game until the very moment that they have to leave the workforce. This will make it a hell of a lot easier for them to get back in.
Certainly, our culture has to change – to be more accommodating of men at home; for instance, it looks like gender roles within the family are more fluid in Sweden, and men taking leave to stay at home is far more common and accepted. But this also makes me wonder – can there be a role for government and corporations to work together, to institute laws and regulations encouraging more parental leave?
And finally, how much are we simply asking our women to become more like men to fit into the corporate world, rather than thinking about how we can create a workplace dynamic, culture and society that is more fine-tuned to gender differences? Can we create a workplace culture that rewards people for the quality of their work, and not for the level of confidence a person has in their work? Can we somehow embrace and make room for these more “feminine” characteristics, instead of asking women to be more like men?