I hope that business leaders will listen to Warren Buffett on this one. After all, when his company says it might be contemplating a certain stock, investors run out the door and buy that stock as soon as they can. They'd fly if they could.
His new radical idea is that companies need to start investing in women
. Not just because it's the nice thing to do, not just because it would make the office more interesting, but because it will benefit them to do so.
The United States is notoriously behind other nations when it comes to leadership in almost every kind of work. It's not because women aren't working, either. Women outnumber men in the work force. There are probably a number of factors contributing to women not leading, but I'd like to think we could eliminate a few of them.
Sometimes, this happens because of discrimination, deliberate or not. Sometimes, you can trace women's lack of leadership to a culture that says science and math are unfeminine. Sometimes, family needs win. Sometimes an unforgiving corporate culture assumes the stay-at-home spouse will deal with the children. Sometimes self-doubt prevents women from taking those steps into the unknown.
A few years ago, Bill Gates famously told an audience that Saudi Arabia could never expect to become a top nation in technology as long as they weren't using the talents of half their population.It only makes sense. Half the innovation, deal-making, discovery, and creativity is held back from leadership. Even though the field is theoretically wide open, very few women are CEOs or film directors or marketing executives or computer scientists.
But if more women in charge, I think things would change. How would women in advertising present the female body differently than men do? How would child care products change if more women developed those products? What family-friendly changes would women introduce to the corporate culture? How much more profit would companies make if women marketed to women, who are responsible for 80% of purchasing decisions?
How do you think things might change if there were more women in leadership positions?
Sometimes I think it would be smarter to ditch the standard employee model completely. Certainly, we're already seeing some of that. Contract work is on the rise. Some jobs value skills and/or experience more than education. More people telecommute or have flexible schedules than ever before.Yet, full-time, W-2 employment is still the standard way to go. It's embedded not just in the workplace, but in all of our social systems--schools, standard office hours, routines, day care hours...This LinkedIn article says that non-linear careers are better. If you don't have access to LinkedIn, I'll summarize. The author says college is expensive and overrated. We should focus instead on internships since experience and networks are more valuable than degrees. You could start a company instead of working for someone else. There are other ways of learning besides the clasLooking back, I'd say the idea of a non-standard career hardly occurred to me. It's not really surprising. With the world changing as fast as it does, how could I expect my tiny elementary school with one computer in the library to prepare me for the real world?I think the author is right that less traditional careers will become more and more common. This will give people more freedom to determine their own schedules and ways of working. But it could make things difficult for those who thrive on the security of having another person pay them.Do you prefer being an employee, your own boss, or a hybrid of these two? What non-traditional career or education moves have you made?
I couldn't resist the title. I love My Fair Lady.
To me, it seems like much of the working world is asking women this question. Why can't a woman work 50 hours like a man? Why can't a woman take whatever the boss dishes out without turning into a crying mess? Why can't a woman just get a nanny to stay later when overtime is required?
Often, though, this puts women in a double bind. They are often seen as less masculine or as not fulfilling their gender roles if they behave more like a man. So they can't win, no matter what they do.
Many women don't have any problem with living up to male standards in the workplace. Maybe they don't have children or other obligations.
Now, more and more men are saying they want to be more like women. They want to spend more time with their families. They are experiencing work-life conflict. They have aging parents, too. I read recently that more men than women are taking advantage of flexibility. They are leaving the office early so they can make dinner. They are taking a couple hours off at lunch to watch the school play.
I think this is great, but it's not enough. The reason that many of these men can do so (sometimes even more so than women) is because they've earned enough credibility in their organizations that this kind of flexibility is no big deal. They're in charge, or at least high enough up that they can do what they want.
Studies show over and over again that lower-income workers and hourly workers are far less likely to be entitled to flexibility than their exempt counterparts. It's as if we're saying flexibility has to be earned. And if you're lower on the totem pole, we don't trust you.
Unfortunately, whether it's due to their personal choices, societal pressure, or discrimination, women are much more likely to be in those lower-paying positions, especially if they have children, and they're less likely to have the same experience level as men. Mothers with children are consistently seen by employers as less committed to their jobs, and generally have to work harder to prove their trustworthiness, even when they've done nothing to show their work doesn't matter to them. So the ones who need it most are least likely to be able to use it.
I wish we wouldn't put people in boxes at the workplace. We don't have to condemn men or women, whether they have children or not, for not conforming to certain ideas about how men or women should behave. I wish we were grown up enough to offer flexibility to everyone without penalizing them for whether or not they choose to use it.
While I agree with Sheryl Sandberg that you shouldn't "leave before you leave" (don't be afraid to commit to things just because of children you might someday have), when I first heard her say so in a TED talk
, her advice grated against me for one reason: some careers are not family-friendly at all.I don't think that the possibility of having a future family should necessarily be limiting, especially when that family hasn't even arrived on the scene yet. I agree with her that assuming a happily-ever-after is not a great career plan, especially since there are no guarantees that your dreams will materialize. On the other hand, some careers are so punishing that trying to have any kind of life outside them is nearly impossible.
Take game development. This article shows how the game industry isn't a great career choice unless you plan to remain childless and anti-social forever. Investment trading is another notoriously intense job--I read once in Opting Out about an investment trader who couldn't even spare the time to get to the bathroom during her period when things got really busy. You can guess how long she lasted there once she had children.
If these industries want to diversify their workforce and increase their profits, they would be smart to change their M.O.. How is the game industry going to attract female forty-something players if all their games are created from the brains of the white twenty-something men they typically employ? How is the financial industry going to retain female workers if even going to the bathroom is a luxury its employees can't afford?
So while I'm all for being an active participant for as long as you can, I also think it's smart to think long-term. There are some careers that don't allow you to have much of a personal life, children or not. Just because you love something now doesn't mean it will be the best choice for you down the road. I don't think this means that things have to stay the same in these fields--traditions can change. But if you're going to be the one to change them, you might have a rough road ahead. And you don't always know what a job will really be like until you're buried sky-high in paperwork.
What industries or jobs do you think are most unfriendly to people with families? Can this be changed?
This post was inspired by this quote
"Here is the crux: Why lean into a system that is fundamentally broken? By pushing ourselves to succeed within this patriarchal world that has been created without our participation, aren't we upholding its pillars of inequality? Truth is, many feel as if we should rush in and bring the whole place down instead -- rebuild it from the ground up as something more equitable, more collaborative, less hierarchical and more "win-win" oriented. Perhaps some of us are more interested in creating businesses with more "feminine" attributes like caring for the planet, our nations' health and well-being and educating our nations' youth. Perhaps we see less value in amassing extreme power and wealth, and more in leaving our world in a better place than where we found it
."Many of us don't want to be part of a broken system. Though women have many huge strides, it's still largely a man's world. It isn't that women are failing, can't hack it, or make different "choices". One of our biggest problems is that our employment system is built on a male ideal. Women are a part of it, but they often blame themselves for failing at their ambitions when they don't achieve them. People look at pay disparity or women's poverty and offer any number of reasons why women aren't doing as well as men. Some of them might even be true. But when our business model is male-centric, some women are bound to fail. Not because they aren't as talented or ambitious or capable or smart or committed, but because many of them have different values (and many men don't fit the male-centric model, either). I don't think this means that people who don't fit in should change their values or their personality in order to match the social structure. I think it means the social structure needs to change.It's easy to say that from my computer while thousands of women struggle to put food on the table, I know. Many of them have to conform just to survive.But what if we did things differently? What if our social structure wasn't built around men, but around people?Things would be different. I think they're already changing. Some forward-thinking people are making important changes that the rest of us need to listen to.
If we are committed to innovation, to profit, to change, to doing the right thing, we'll do all we can to include as many people as possible.If you want to create your own structure that incorporates your own values, how would you do it? Here are some ideas I thought of, but please feel free to add your own.
How do you think we can create a better world at work?
- start your own company
- create partnerships with non-profit organizations
- organize charitable giving events
- ask for the schedule you need
- form a committee within your company to discuss ways to recruit and retain non-traditional employees
- create non-monetary rewards for performance
- create more collaborative projects
- think of alternatives to the traditional career ladder
- create time for employees to be involved in the community
- invite leaders of causes you care about to speak in your organization
My husband is a gamer. Me, not so much. I did my share of Load Runner and Space Invaders growing up (it was the eighties, after all), but since I have a pathological fear of wasting time, games never really caught on with me.
I heard an interview with Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken
, and decided I had to buy the book.
Rather than a mind-numbing wasteland, games actually do some good things. It isn't games that are the problem, McGonigal says. It's reality.
She's not saying that we should all run out and pretend we're aliens, but that our social structures like work and school are actually counterproductive to learning and innovation.
Gamers are notoriously optimistic, even in the face of multiple failures. They will face seemingly impossible obstacles while their characters die over and over again. Why? Because they always have another chance to succeed. Despite their loner reputations, gamers are actually quite social because they need to be in order to achieve their goals. They need each others' skills in order to defeat the armies of bad guys. No one can do it alone.
Contrast this with school, where an academic failure appears on a student's record permanently, or a work environment, where a big enough failure to meet expectations means no more job for the employee.
A game-based school called Quest to Learn
recently opened in New York City. Every day gives students a chance to learn. They might discover a secret code hidden in a library book, gain "master" status by learning a new skill, level up by completing tasks, fight a boss monster requiring them to use all the knowledge they've gained, or teach virtual characters how to do certain tasks.
I once interviewed a game developer for a magazine article. One thing he loved about his job was that he got to play at work. You could easily argue that that's the nature of his work, but I think that just about any field could make work like play. There are already games and apps available that motivate people to run or to do housework by allowing them to accumulate points or with avatars that can be customized to look like the user.
A couple of years ago, I read Finding Your Own North Star
by Martha Beck. I only remember one thing from the entire book. People who had found their calling in life described their work as "play".
How do you think work could change to become more like a game?
For Sheryl Sandberg, leaning in works really well. It’s too bad so many people hate her for it.
Sandberg’s book doesn’t claim that her approach will fix everything, but I’ve seen too many articles proclaiming, “Sandberg’s way is not the answer,” as if answers only come in single, easily-unwrapped packages.
We like easy answers. But just as a single-ingredient omelet is simple but bland, we’re missing something if we think there’s only one way to get women to the top of their organizations.
Criticisms of Lean In
usually fall in one of three categories:
- Sandberg is rich. Therefore, she can’t relate to the rest of us, and her solutions can’t work for the lower and middle classes.
- By suggesting that women have room to improve, Sandberg is blaming women.
- Sandberg’s solution leaves too much out. The real problem is x, and until we implement x, women won’t advance, no matter what else they do.
Now that I’ve read Lean In
, I would like to respond to all the negativity.
- Sandberg is rich. So what?
Yes, she’s privileged, and she recognizes that. In her 60 Minutes interview
, when Norah O’Donnell suggests it’s easy for Sandberg to share her ideas because of her position, she answers, “It is
easier for me to say this. And that's why I'm saying it.”
There are a lot of worse things you could do with privilege. She’s not advocating killing small animals, encouraging young people to start smoking, or telling young women to starve themselves in order to please men. I’m glad she’s using her powers for good.
Privilege does not invalidate a person’s words any more than poverty does. Some say that her focus on leadership ignores
the working poor, and while it’s true that most working-class people are not aiming for the C-Suite, it doesn’t mean her advice is useless to them. If a poor woman reads Sandberg’s words and finds something valuable in them, why should anyone’s class matter? When compared to the rest of the world, many of the critics are quite privileged themselves, and I doubt they’re hoping their audiences will ignore them based on the size of their bank account. 2. Suggesting improvement is not the same as blaming
While Sandberg’s style doesn’t tongue-lash women for not being up to snuff, her performance review in print can cause discomfort. The observable differences between men’s and women’s behavior patterns in the workplace are disturbing. Aren’t we doing better than this?
Sandberg isn’t saying all of women’s problems are of their own making. She admits to falling into many of the same traps she advises women to avoid. There’s a reason women don’t advocate for themselves as much as men. Women feel a lot of pressure to conform to society’s ideal of femininity. Sandberg’s research demonstrates how women are disadvantaged and how their society teaches them to behave. When women “lean in” by showing their leadership skills, they pay a social price for doing so. She’s not saying, “You deserve what you get.” She’s saying, “There’s a reason you might be acting this way. Here’s one thing that might help.” 3. Just because a solution doesn’t solve everything doesn’t mean we should throw it out
Sandberg doesn’t preach her ideas as a panacea to fix all of women’s woes. She is, however, giving women an attainable way to create change rather than focusing on forces outside their control. That would probably take another book. The external barriers, such as discrimination, a long work week, and a lack of flexibility, need to change, but Sandberg believes that if women reach the top levels of their organizations, they’ll be better equipped to help these changes happen.
Sandberg calls this tug-of-war between women’s internal and institutional barriers the “ultimate chicken-and-egg situation.” Some feminists, like Sandberg, argue that women need to be better advocates for themselves. Other women advocate in different ways. Since Sandberg believes both sides are right, she argues that “philosophical arguments over which comes first” are fruitless.
It’s ironic that her critics condemn her for focusing on women themselves. Whether the critics’ solution is workplace legislation, policy change, poverty eradication, or flexible workplaces, they believe “leaning in” won’t any good without removing the barriers.
This is exactly the kind of “chicken-and-egg” debate Sandberg is talking about. Many responses to her book offer other solutions (such as this article
that suggests rethinking the time requirements of leadership positions and this article
advocating paid family leave and paid sick leave). While I love the discussion her book is generating, and I’m excited that we have so many ideas to help the advancement of women, I don’t think we don’t need to demonize Sandberg to promote our own ideas. We need to talk about all the solutions instead of dismissing the ones that aren’t the same as our own.
- Do women need to speak up more?
- Could we use sick leave laws like Connecticut’s elsewhere in the nation?
- Do men need to do their share of housework and child care?
- Could flexible workplaces help to advance the careers of women?
- Can we encourage young women to develop leadership skills?
- Can workplaces stop assuming that sixty-hour workweeks are a necessary path to leadership?
- Could we do more to stop discrimination against women, and especially against mothers?
The answer to all these questions (and many more) is yes
There isn’t a single solution here. If there were just one solution, we could apply it tomorrow. But when one person proposes a solution, we’re so eager to promote our own solutions that we stomp all over the other person’s ideas. Why can’t we embrace all the solutions and try them all? Instead of running from the complexity, let’s embrace it.
To make a good omelet, we need chickens and eggs. And milk and pepper and cheese and onions. We don’t need a bunch of cooks arguing about chickens while the eggs burn.
I've got Sheryl Sandberg on the brain. After I wrote about her, I decided to review Sandberg's TED talk
.Sandberg says women shouldn't leave before they leave. In other words, when women are planning their families, they start taking a backseat at work well before the little bundle of joy arrives on the scene. They sometimes do this years in advance, thinking, "Well, I'm going to have a child someday. I'd better cut back now so that I can more easily fit that child into my life."She's right that women pay a hefty professional price when they curtail their ambitions. No group of women is at bigger risk of poverty than mothers. The workplace isn't set up very well to accommodate women (or men) who leave to have babies. That needs to change, of course. But in the meantime, it makes sense to position yourself to make a quick return later.Men rarely plan work around their families. There are some exceptions, but in general, men go for the opportunities they want and figure out how to fit work with family life later. Most men in leadership positions have wives at home who care for their children. That's the only way men can put in the long hours that leadership usually requires. And that's great for many couples, if that's what they want to do.But here's the pervading problem: women are expected to make those professional sacrifices, just because they're female.
Men--not so much.
Workplaces are built around the assumption that workers are available pretty much whenever, especially if those workers have leadership ambitions. Even though more women work than ever before, the average work week is actually getting longer in the United States, taking people away from their families for longer periods of time. If a man has to work 60-80 hours, something's got to give. It's usually the wife's career. And, of course, family time. Men experience even more work/life conflict than women do.There are three areas people typically target when they're seeking changes in the workplace: (1) helping women improve their chances of getting to the top
(2) helping workplaces see the value of becoming more family-friendly. (3) promoting legislation that encourages better balance for working parents.
All of these are important, and I hope people will take the initiative to create change. But, more specifically, I'm calling on one group of people to join the family-friendly work cause.Each of these routes to change will be more likely to succeed if men get on board. I'm not talking about indirect power here. I'm talking about cooperation between the sexes. This issue is important for everyone.How would our culture and workplace change if men asked themselves questions like these:
Work/life balance is not just a women's issue. That's how it's often seen, unfortunately, because women traditionally put their own needs and desires aside for others, while the same is rarely expected of men. Women usually do the compromising. But men have families, too, and they don't always want to be the absent breadwinner.
- Does my wife bear the brunt of family responsibilities (even if she's working)? Is she happy with this arrangement? If not, what can I do to help even things out?
- Do I feel threatened if a woman's professional achievements parallel or surpass mine? Do I put women into "mom" or "career woman" boxes? Do I send messages, whether deliberately or not, that high-achieving women are not suited for family life or vice-versa?
- Am I happy with the hours I'm working or do I wish to spend more time with family or other personal pursuits?
- Is my wife happy with the career sacrifices she's made? Does she make a disproportionately large share of sacrifices for our family and is that what she wants to do? What are her goals and ambitions?
- What does it take to achieve leadership in my organization? Do these requirements make sense or are they based on face time rather than productivity or leadership qualities?
- Does the status quo make sense (for example, are long residency hours for prospective doctors helpful or just how things have always been done)?
- Are there women in my organization who would like to get ahead but who are being overlooked because of their gender?
- Are there other men in my organization who are unhappy with their work/life balance? How can we work together to change things?
Family-friendly workplaces are family issues, and the sooner men recognize that, the faster change will happen.
with all the buzz isn't available yet, but it's already drawing plenty of criticism
(and plenty of defense
of those criticisms). I personally haven't yet read the book, though I will.Here's what people have said so far:
- Sandberg is overly critical of women
- Sandberg is privileged, therefore she can't relate to the struggles of ordinary women
- The real problem is with the system, not with women
It's true, the system has problems. Some things that are perfectly legal in the United States are illegal elsewhere, and for good reason. Employers get away with all kinds of jerkiness, even illegal things, because we don't have enough resources to stop them. Women, especially mothers, are at risk for poverty and there is not enough accountability for the way they are treated. Children have a lot of needs that go unrecognized, and women usually pay the severest penalties for meeting those needs, especially in the workplace.But. How long are we going to wait for things to change?I'm not saying women shouldn't fight for their rights. The system is stacked against them, and many legal measures have opened doors of opportunity that used to be closed. Write to your politicians. Petition your employer for more family-friendly measures.But, let's face it. Women with careers are heavily invested in themselves. Again, you could make the argument (which, I understand, Sandberg does), that the system is unfair. Women often have to work harder to prove their abilities than men do. I don't think Sandberg is suggesting that it's all women's fault.But if they keep doing the same things at work while expecting politicians or employers to make things better, how long will they be waiting?
Are we supposed to wait around? Spend all our time on advocacy?So what if Sandberg suggests that women can change themselves? It's not an either/or proposition. I don't think she's suggesting that it's all women's fault.
Nor am I. I would love to see some major changes in the culture, in the government, and in the workplace, and I'm going to fight for them as best I can. But doing so doesn't mean I can't work on personal development while I'm at it. Systemic change creates opportunity and growth, it's true, AND growth can also create change.I vote for both.
Note: This post originally appeared at Doves and Serpents
.I am ambitious. I don’t have the Ph.D. to match, but I’ve always been an achievement addict for whom simply existing never seemed to be enough. As a twelve-year-old child, I was already making to-do lists during my summer vacations. I used to have a Dr. Seuss All About Me book where I could circle what job I wanted. I circled about half of the hundred or so
One of the occupations I circled was mother. It didn’t occur to me then that motherhood would get in the way of any of the other fifty or so careers that were destined to be mine.
But when I became a teenager, conference talks, seminary videos, and Young Women’s lessons were all about the virtue of staying home. Nothing, they told me, would be more important than my family. Writing books or typing memos would never compare to the sweet joy of holding a newborn baby.
I agreed. It was family over career, not both. Once I had kids, I would stay home, because that was my role. The idea that I’d have to figure out a way to get back into the working world, ever, never occurred to me. I knew so much about what motherhood was like before I had kids, before the real world introduced itself to me.
After BYU graduation, I worked full-time, putting my husband through his last few months of classes and his internship, right up until my first baby came. Then I quit everything. I even abandoned my hobbies.
I’d always assumed that I’d be able to channel my ambitions into my children. I wouldn’t need fulfillment, because the cute adorable babies would fulfill me. Except it didn’t work that way. I was stuck in my tiny little apartment with no transportation, very little money, and nobody to talk to. At first I thought something was seriously wrong with me. It took me years to understand that babies wouldn’t remove my ambition like a frontal lobotomy. I was still me.
There was no check-off list. With no tangible rewards for my work, I focused on keeping the house clean, since that was my only visual measure of success. I knew housework didn’t matter much in the grand scheme, yet it did in a miserable, white-knuckle way, because that was all I could cling to. The house became the tyrant I could never please, no matter how hard I tried. When my child’s behavior didn’t match the parenting books, I began to wonder if I knew how to make good decisions at all. So not only was I stressed out and depressed, I developed a real lack of self-confidence. The assurance school had always given me was gone and it felt like I couldn’t do anything
My previous job wasn’t conducive to working at home, ever, and didn’t pay much more than the cost of transportation and babysitting. I’d come up short in the practicality department because my degree was in music and French, and I wasn’t qualified for much of anything.
I took up some hobbies again and started seriously thinking about what I could do to earn some money. I tried a variety of money-making ventures—some were mildly successful, and others were complete disasters.
I didn’t want to work full-time. There were broken arms and psychiatrist visits and the croup and bouts of diarrhea that seemed to last forever. There were fits of rage and driveways full of snow and leaking faucets and worn-out tires. Some dual-earner families made it work, but I couldn’t see how we could, especially considering that we’d started out on the premise that DH would be working full-time and that I would be taking care of the kids.
No one ever tells you that these decisions, though they’re not set in stone, are difficult to change once you’ve already made them. And that once you have kids, everything changes, making personal goals much harder than before.
I plan to teach my kids differently. I will tell them: Plan for providing for yourself and your family. Don’t depend on some happily ever after to fulfill your dreams for you. Choose something you love, but infuse those dreams with a good dose of money-making practicality. If you want to study art history, go for it, but take some business classes so that you’ll be able to get some income from what you love, whether that’s at home, in a business, or in an actual job. Don’t assume that if you “get an education”, a degree will guarantee financial
security. If you’re going to graduate school, do it as early as you possibly
can. Get some experience working so you have some proven, marketable skills.
Keep your resume and your networks as updated as possible. Keep learning and developing new skills, whether you’re employed full-time or not. Be open to change, because there’s a real possibility that you might not want to continue in the field you started in.
Things are better for me now for several reasons. My youngest is four years old, so we’re past diapers and sleepless nights and baby food carpet mashing and running into traffic. I’ve been writing (and occasionally been paid for it). I’ve joined some business networks and I volunteer weekly. I’ve made some new friends who share my interests. I started a website for people like me who are searching for a combination of work and family that works for them (www.familyfriendlywork.org).
I’m still at home, and I’m still wishing I could pull in some more money, but I enjoy what I do and I have big plans for the future. I don’t have a great answer for when people ask me what I do. I’m a work-mostly-at-home-mostly-for-free mom? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m a lot happier when I feel like I’m making a difference in the world, when my world is not confined to four walls, and when something is getting done.