Recently, I was asked to read a chapter from Sheryl Sandberg’s best selling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for feminism, but I made the mistake of judging a book by its cover. I thought, ‘what will I read that I haven’t already heard before?’ Turns out, quite a bit.
Sheryl begins the chapter with an anecdote. As the COO of Facebook, she was charged with hosting a meeting of fifteen Silicon Valley executives to talk about the economy. One secretary arrived with his staff consisting
of four women. In the room of nearly all men, despite Sheryl’s attempts to include them, the women took their food last and sat off to the side of the room. The lesson here? “In addition to facing institutional obstacles, women face a battle from within.”
She then proceeds to another anecdote, this time revolving around a Harvard speech she attended, given by Dr. Peggy McIntosh. Here’s what she, and ultimately I, ended up learning:
“…many people, but especially women feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worth of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made.”
According to Sheryl, a man is more likely to attribute success to “his own innate qualities and skills”, whereas women (as well as their colleagues and the media) are quick to credit external factors to their achievements.
Anecdote #3 starts like this: “My insecurity began, as most insecurities do, in high school.” Amen. You can probably guess how that goes. So I’ll skip to the end of the chapter to the actual life lessons like, “fake it till you feel it” (‘it’ being confidence) or “You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around.”
One of Sheryl’s concluding anecdotes recounts the time she gave a talk on gender issues to Facebook employees. Towards the end, she said she would only take two more questions. She ended up taking a lot more– but only from men. Why? When told the
y would be wrapping up, all the women put their hands down. Sheryl says, “Even though I was giving a speech on gender issues, I had been blind to one myself.”
According to Sheryl, “If we want a world with greater equality, we need to acknowledge that women are less likely to keep their hands up. We need institutions and individuals to notice and correct for this behavior by encouraging, promoting, and championing more women.” The truth in this statement revolves around the key words ‘institutions and individuals’. We can’t keep hoping that a few influential women like Sheryl Sandberg or Emma Watson (with her #HeForShe campaign) are enough to make a change.
You’d be surprised how many girls and women yearn to see themselves “sitting at the table”. I know I do. So does Sheryl Sandberg.
“…now I know how to take a deep breath and keep my hand up. I have learned to sit at the table.”