HOW TO REMEDY THE PROBLEM OF
TOO FEW WOMEN LEADERS
By: Allison Kernisky, Holland & Knight
Soothing a nocturnal baby gives one a lot of time sitting in a chair with a free hand. Recently, during a late-night marathon session with my infant daughter, I was perusing the Internet on my iPad when I came across a fascinating speech given by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, entitled "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders." Sandberg has been in the news recently for helping to prepare Facebook for its multi-billion dollar IPO but she has been championing women for years. In her 15-minute talk, given in December 2010 at a TEDWomen Conference,1
Sandberg discusses why she thinks women drop out of the workforce at a disproportionate rate before they have a chance to reach top leadership positions. While Sandberg's speech is geared mostly towards working women who either intend to, or already, have children, her principles apply to any working woman. She suggests three ways women can empower themselves to reach the top. Briefly, they are:
1. Sit at the table;
1. Sit at the Table
2. Make your partner a real partner; and
3. Don't leave before you leave.
Sandberg asserts that at meetings, women too often take a seat not at the main table but at a side or back table while men almost always sit at the main table. This behavior can extend to all aspects of a woman's career. Sandberg points out a disturbing statistic: during their initial hiring, 57% of men negotiate their starting salary compared to only 7% of women. From then on in their careers, Sandberg suggests, women are continually devaluing their worth and their contributions. The ramifications of this are great. Women who do not have a significant presence at work will not reach leadership positions because they will not even register on the radar of those in charge of making those decisions. As Sandberg states, "[n]o one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table."
I must confess that, more often than not, I have been guilty of choosing a seat in the back of the room instead of sitting at the main table during meetings. I never did so consciously, but after hearing Sandberg's speech I realized the potential impact the seemingly insignificant decision of where to sit or when and how to speak out can have on a woman's career. More worrisome is the stalled path that this type of behavior could lead a woman down. This is something to consider before choosing a seat at your next meeting or determining how vocal to be.
2. Make Your Partner a Real Partner
Next, Sandberg cites statistics that indicate that in families where both the husband and wife work full-time outside the home and have a child, the woman does twice the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare than the man. Sandberg proposes that to remedy this, women must ask their partners to be real partners and to share more of the duties in the home so that women are not stuck doing two or three jobs to the man's one. Likewise, she suggests that women need to be more accepting of men who take on an expanded role in the home. She half-jokingly notes that at a Mommy & Me class she attended, there was one father present and none of the mothers would play with him.
Personally, I am extremely fortunate that my husband, who is a full-time artist and sets his own schedule, is able to stay at home with our daughter during the day (though I am not sure "fortunate" is the word he would always use to describe this situation, especially after a day of endlessly picking up dropped toys off the floor). For now, this setup works for us, but other working mothers may not be as fortunate. Sandberg encourages women to examine their own lives to find ways to get their partners more involved in the duties of the home so that women are not left shouldering an unequal portion of the responsibilities.
3. Don't Leave Before You Leave
Lastly, Sandberg believes that when women reach the point in their lives where they begin to consider having a child, they often turn down more challenging projects at work in anticipation of being out of the office on maternity leave and then being considerably busier at home once they go back to work. As she puts it, the women start "leaning back." She tells the audience that women need to do the opposite: lean forward and keep their foot on the gas pedal for as long as they can right up until the time they stop working so that they have a job they love when they come back and not merely a job that they have settled for. This results in women who are more willing to stay in the workforce long enough to be eligible to move into top leadership positions.
Overall, I was happy to return from my maternity leave to a stimulating job where I get to work with amazing people. But even for those of us fortunate enough to work at places where women have many opportunities to excel, Sandberg's tips are useful to put into practice individually. I encourage you to get out there and sit at the table or if you have already been doing that, to save a seat for a female colleague. And if you happen to see my husband in a Mommy & Me class, please share your toys.
Video of Sandberg's speech is available here
Allison Kernisky is an enthusiastic new member of the Women's Chamber of Commerce. She is an associate in Holland & Knight's Miami office where she practices in litigation with emphasis in defending securities class actions and SEC and FINRA enforcement matters. She can be reached at (305) 349-2175 or email@example.com
1 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) began in 1984 as a nonprofit devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading." TED Talks are speeches given at TED conferences by figures from all walks of life on an array of topics, which are then made available for free viewing on TED's website (www.ted.com).
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