Has Sandberg taken us back in time?

Businesswoman.Part 2 of the Sandberg Saga focuses on Sheryl Sandberg putting the blame back on women as a reason for the backlash both she and her book have received.

It seems that we have tried for many years to shift the gender issue from one of ‘fixing the women’ to one of ‘fixing the company’ and Sheryl has taken a stand of re-focusing on the individual.  It feels to me like we’ve gone back in time, and I suspect many others share my view.

When I was selecting a topic for my major research paper for a Masters degree in Leadership, I phoned the people at  Catalyst Inc.  Catalyst is a research-driven organization with a mission to expand opportunities for women and business.  I spoke to one of their senior researchers and asked where they were focusing their research and asked for some advice on selecting my topic.  That day I was told that the ‘fix-the-women’ side of the gender coin had received plenty of research, and it was time to focus on the ‘fix-the-company’ side.  That simple comment helped me decide to focus my research on what companies need to do to get more women in the leadership pipeline. (Click here to access my research paper)

One perspective that I hear repeated most frequently, is that Sandberg is “blaming other women for not trying hard enough.” This is certainly the opinion of Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO at 20-First, a company that claims to be one of the world’s leading gender balance consulting firms.  Well, Sandberg’s book does tell us that we need to lean in to our careers full throttle, and we need to be willing to lead… ‘dream the possible dream’ as she puts it.  Ya, I feel the finger pointing at me.

In her chapter titled, Sit at the Table, Sheryl reminds us that we women consistently underestimate ourselves, that “negative feedback causes a woman’s self-confidence to drop”, and that “lack of confidence can become a self-fullfilling prophesy.”  While the numbers may show all this to be true, she brings us this information in a chapter that also says “women hold themselves back, literally choosing to watch from the sidelines.”  I don’t know about you, but I sure feel blamed for my own demise after reading this.  And I’m only on page 33!

In my own career I’ve frequently felt relegated to the sidelines, and I didn’t sit there by choice.

I’ve been a career-woman all my life, and with the oldest of my four sons turning 28 this year, I can tell you that I never left any job before I left.  In fact, for two of my babies, I was up, dressed for work and ready to leave for the train station when I took a detour to the hospital to give birth.   My first son slept in a car-bed (for those of us who remember what that is) under my desk as I worked in the office before my 17-week maternity leave was finished.  To my Canadian friends, no, 17-weeks is not a typo.

And I know there are a lot of women who are the same as me… in fact I’d say we are the majority.  Yet Sheryl’s book devotes a chapter to telling women Don’t Leave Before You Leave.  

I think that Sheryl’s book is brilliant in highlighting the statistics that prove gender discrimination is alive and well, and I love her writing style.  My greatest disappointment is that as a powerful woman well positioned in business, she is choosing to focus on women doing what they can do, instead of companies doing what they should do.  Cox does a beautiful job of articulating my disappointment when she says, “Sandberg does not serve other women well by pretending that companies are a meritocracy that just requires individual effort.”  

Gender diversity and inclusion is a triple-sided issue (individual, company, society) that still needs a great deal of work.  As for Sandberg?  She does a good job of keeping the conversation going, and for that I thank her.



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