I tend not to jump on bandwagons. I keep up and make sure I know what people are talking about. I read reviews and blogs and listen to the opinions of the famous and the not famous who are in my social and professional sphere of influence. The truth is that I tend to collect information and reflect a while before I’m able to form a clear opinion on many things.
When Lean In by Cheryl Stansbury came out in March, there was an onslaught of magazine covers, talk shows, interviews, Op-Ed pieces and reviews. As a result, there was a lot of conversations (mostly by women) about the topic of professional women blending work and family, about the book, and about Cheryl. I listened and asked a lot of questions.
I finally got around to reading the book last weekend. The national conversation has moved on. Since I write a Blog, I wanted to articulate some of my thoughts here.
I wanted to learn something new from reading Lean In – but I didn’t. Not so alarming really. The conversation about professional women blending work and family appears to be largely held by professional women with and for other professional women. I guess it’s not all that surprising but it’s limiting. What I did find sad (more than alarming) is that so much of the stuff in the book was new to women. Because it’s not!
A working definition of feminism (legal, financial, and social parity) is the same one I heard in the early 70’s. Wanting to be liked by others is often a hurdle for ambitious women. It’s often a hurdle for any woman. Hoping to be seen as attractive to the opposite sex? It’s frequently a desire for women. Figuring out how to get what you want without pissing someone off can be an ongoing challenge through life.
Why is this news? I’ve got some ideas:
- Younger women think that whatever happened before they arrived on the scene won’t happen to them because they are younger! In this case, younger really means smarter.
- Older women got tired of telling younger women that many of the hurdles of the workplace and the home front were there for them when they were the younger women. When you are ignored, you stop talking.
- Older women and younger women don’t seem to be allies. There were too few senior level spots available. When there is only one woman allowed into the C-Suite, she may be so thrilled to be there, that like a young man welcomed into the ‘old boys’ network’ – she adopts their rules in order to play on their field.
I recently was watching the CBS Morning Show and caught Jodi Kantor from the NY Times speaking about the study recently completed by the Harvard Business School as they worked toward gender equity. As they talked about teaching women how to raise their hand in class, I cringed. Were women at Harvard Business school (home of the bright and elite) missing this most basic of skills?! No wonder we are stuck in second gear!
I remembered a training program I had conducted for professionals on effective networking strategies and skills. I had included what I thought would be a very brief exercise on the correct way to meet someone and shake their hand. It ended up taking 30 minutes! I was floored but many said it was the most useful part of the program! Why? Because no one had bothered to teach them this basic AND essential skill.
And it’s not just those simple things. In a program on The Art of Conducting Effective Meetings, the feedback I received was that the program was really helpful. Why? Because no one had ever really trained the participants on the most effective strategies, techniques and skills needed for conducting an effective and efficient meeting. Most of them had learned how to run meetings by attending poorly run meetings.
So, my overall take?
Lean In is a book that needed to be written. It will need to be written by somebody new for every new generation. Women may have to learn from their own experience because the previous generation is unable to reach them or teach them.
I did learn something about the author. She credits her parents, specifically her mother with serving as a terrific role model. Cheryl Stansbury’s mother didn’t take a referendum on what other people thought she should do, think, or say. She didn’t read a lot of books about what other people did or thought she should do. She simply did was she thought was best for her, her husband, her family, her employer, and her community.
That’s something to aim for.