Are you leaning forward or back? With the recent release of Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, book, Lean In, the internet has been buzzing with commentary, support or disgust. It has spurred a worldwide discussion on the merits of women in high places or not. The book is calling to women to stop unconsciously sabotaging their careers, by having children or put it another way, having a life outside of the boardroom.
I do not want to open the can of worms that debates stay-at-home-mum v career ladder climbers etc as I believe many woman around the world have been leaning in for decades. They know the shots and have made their decisions with a clear mind.
Whilst I will disclose I concur with the general position that corporations and boards should close down their old boy networks and open and welcome into their dusty boardrooms to talented, qualified women, I live in the real world. In the majority of corporations, men still hold the highest percentage on senior roles and seats on boards. Prejudice rides high and when faced with two equally qualified candidates, men will typically elect to hire another man over a woman.
Research confirms time and time again, that customers prefer men. Sad but true. It is therefore no surprise that men still hold the lion share of power, but it’s shocking to learn that men still receive higher remuneration for the same job. The median wage for women is lower than the median wage for men in most countries. There is a general scholarly consensus that the majority of the differences between men and women’s pay can be attributed to differences in the choices men and women make regarding their careers, so here Sheryl Sandberg has a point.
How can this all change? Ms Sandberg is making the case that women need to be more proactive in their early career choices and “lean-in” for those leaps up the ladder.
For starters she could look toward Europe. The gender-quotas has been an important driver for change, and no-where has this more seriously been applied is in Norway. The Norwegian regulations for 60/40 per cent gender balance on company boards – world known as the quota law– has become a benchmark and a field study for Europe’s aim of increasing the number of women in economic and commercial decision-making. Many things have been said and written about the Norwegian quota, not least the positive affect companies has enjoyed by including women on their board.
It took legislation to pave the way for self-regulatory and complementary measures in Norway, perhaps other countries need to follow their lead. That’s the only way more woman will be assisted to “lean in” to those C level roles.
In countries like USA, UK and many others there is a need for both parents to work. The cost of home purchase, cars, education and all the other trappings of middle class living demand that two salaries be brought into a household. So I believe many women have weighed up their choices. For those that want to “lean in” they are already there! They made their choices and now their families are stuck with an absent mother who is probably frazzled at home due to her impossible agenda and constant work demands. These are the choices people make and whilst Ms Sandberg may believe it is the right choice for her, it is perhaps wrong of her to dictate that more should follow her in footsteps.
Money and power do not equal happiness and so to close this blog, I will end with this famous story and joke about the Mexican fishermen. In the spirit of “Lean In” I’ve changed the gender for fun but the moral remains the same.
“An American business women was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one lady fishing was docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican lady on the quality of her fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, that it only took a little while. The American then asked why didn’t she stay out longer and catch more fish. The Mexican said she had enough to support her family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” The Mexican lady said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, prepare dinner, take siesta with my husband, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar an dance with my husband and amigos. I have a full and busy life.”
The American scoffed. “I have an MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.” The Mexican lady asked, “But how long will this all take?” To which the American replied, “Fifteen or twenty years.” “But what then?” The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.” “Millions? Then what?” The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, cook, take siesta with your husband, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar dance with husband your amigos…”
So perhaps the answers is, you can have it all, but not at the same time. For those people driven to work all hours possible, you go for it and lean in. Meanwhile, for the rest, determine what makes you happy, what makes your life fun for you and your family and go for it as well. Switch off your phone and take your kids to the park and follow in Mary Poppins footsteps, “go fly a kite!”