A few weeks ago, I was able to see Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, speak in person at a Harvard Undergrad Women in Business event. You could tell that everyone, myself included, had a girl crush on Sheryl. We laughed at all her jokes, soaked up all her facts, and left that room feeling inspired and ready to take on the world.
I’ve talked before about what I read in her book, Lean In, and frankly I don’t think I did the greatest job showcasing how helpful the book was to me, my outlook on my career, and my view on how we can change the world.
Sheryl says that the most important thing you can do to change the world is to lead.
While other honorable initiatives like girls’ education and changing policy are helpful, becoming a leader is the best thing you can to.
Because when you lead, you get to change things.
Sheryl talks about how one day, when she was pregnant with her first child, she had to park in the back of the Google parking lot when she worked there because she couldn’t find a closer spot. Her body didn’t enjoy pregnancy, so walking across the big parking lot was tough. In a conversation with her husband, he told her his company had pregnancy parking, where she then went into Google’s leaders and asked for pregnancy parking.
They said of course- just nobody had thought of it before.
Because Sheryl was in a position of power there, she was comfortable enough to ask for something as simple as pregnancy parking. If she were lower in the organization, she may not have the confidence or the exposure to ask for something like this.
When you lead, you get to change things.
Funny enough, Sheryl during the beginning of her speech was having trouble with her mic. It kept banging up against something, and it was clearly messing up the sound and the recording. The sound team interrupted quickly- and told her she had to take her earring out. Her candid response was that if more women wore these mics then they would have made better ones.
While women are making HUGE progress in education, graduating more women than men from college these days, this increase has not filtered through to the top corporate jobs. Just 14% of top corporate jobs are had by women, including only 20% in the nonprofit sector, an industry we typically see as an industry for women. The worst part? This statistic has been the same for over a decade- showing no progress since 2002.
Sheryl thought back to the original feminist leaders, those who made great strides for women to actually work, women being able to vote and have a say in the household. She gives a quote from Susan B. Anthony, “Our job is not to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going.”
We have been too grateful in recent times- and have not continued to make progress. Women still don’t have the top jobs and they still make 77 cents to the dollar for every man. We did not feel as Susan B. Anthony hoped we would- we stopped the progress.
Besides leading in your organization, there are other, smaller actions, you can take to showcase what’s happening in the world and to help change stereotypes for women and girls.
Some of my favorites from the book:
- When a women gets interrupted in a meeting (which she will, more often than men) don’t be afraid to interrupt and say you’d like to hear what that woman has to say. Likely, those interrupting don’t recognize that they’re doing it.
- When you hear a mother tell her daughter that she’s bossy, a term that is almost NEVER used to describe little boys, give her a smile and tell her, “You’re daughter’s not bossy, she has executive leadership skills.
- Finally, be sure to give networking opportunities, and the ability to have mentors, to women as you do to men. The book tells of one c-level male executive who stopped going out for a drink or dinner after work with anyone, since he could only do this with men and not women, without looking creepy. He was always open to getting breakfast or lunch, but dinner/drinks was out of the question for everyone in order to level the playing field.
Again, I urge you to pick up a copy of her book and take a read. I hope you’ll learn a little about yourself and the world we live in, enough to inspire you to lean in, lead more, and change the world for the better.
To see Sheryl speak about her book, check her out on Levo League’s Office Hours here.