I’m Just a Girl in the World…That’s All That You’ll Let Me Be

Image representing Sheryl Sandberg as depicted...
Image via CrunchBase

No Doubt’s first album. Yes I know its a bit cliche, but  it fit the point.

A few months ago there was the big debate over whether women could “have it all.” Here are the commentaries from the two major players: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and  Anne Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official. I thought I would talk about it, as Sandberg is starting to do press for the release of her new book that expands that talk, Lean In. I am sure there are other people we could add to the debate. Marissa Mayer, current Yahoo CEO, who started the job a month or so before she was due, and decided to work through her maternity leave, which drove some people crazy. Also others are throwing her under the bus with the new Yahoo work from home recall.

I’ll admit I heard the Sheryl Sandberg TED talk first and I loved it. Her three points are as follows: 1) Sit at the table. She talks about how too often women literally dont sit at the table. They will often assume the table is for people more important than them. Women also attribute their success to outside factors, while men attribute their success to themselves, which removes women from the table as their circumstances made them good – not them.

2) Make your partner your partner. We should treat our spouses as actual partners, instead of taking on most of the housework and other chores in addition to full-time work. I also read an article that says women often feel uncomfortable with men doing household work as it makes them feel like less of a woman, or failure, and also can emasculate the men in their eyes.

3) Don’t leave before you leave. Women often start acting as if they other responsibilities before they actually have them. They start thinking about what if they have children some day and then start making work decisions NOW about what that someday should look like. This can mean not taking on projects or promotions because it may not leave enough time in the future.

This third point is probably the one I like best. I am often in conversations with women where I find that I am the only one thinking long-term about a full-time career. Im planning on how many years I want to work internationally, and how I can get the experience to rise up within an organization and how can I build up my consulting practice before I start expecting it to be my primary income. And while no one ever asks me about kids or marriage – another odd quirk of being me: you’re exempt from typical life event questions – I also dont have any right now and they arent even a possibility. No one is putting sperm in the uterus. So no Im not making decisions now based on what I may need to adjust when I do finally have the little ones. Im also not tempering my ambition because of a someday. Yes, that means I will be making more money than most men I know – and we all know what the stats are saying about women and men and income disparities. But it also means that I can afford to live the kind of life I want to have without relying on someone else to create it – Ive realized that recently Ive been fulfilling the dreams I had when growing up poor without a real way to accomplish them, and its really a fun road, despite hoeing it alone.

I dont think all women should work. I have no agenda for our gender as a whole, other than this: whatever you choose to do, be the best. If you are choosing to be a stay-at-home mom, then be involved in fighting for your children, educating them and creating an environment where they will grow into great adults – like the one my mother created for us even though she was working.  If you choose to work – then work! Take promotions, be the best, dont shrink to make anyone more comfortable with you and own the growth you can make at work. And if you choose to switch or combine in the myriads of available ways – then lean into those. I just want us not to settle for lives that are below our capabilities in any sense. Lets make real choices for ourselves. Let us know what we are giving up and gaining in whatever role we take, and embrace fully the direction we are choosing. Let us not default to a stereotype that does no one a service, including the men, children and family we may be trying to protect and appease. We do not need to be CEOs to continue to shape the world in a better image, but we do need to be fully conscious wherever we are. That to me is the take home message of Sandberg.

Ill talk about Slaughter’s argument later, as it combines some other interesting issues in the debate.

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