Just as the furore over Sheryl Sandberg's book 'Lean in' has died down I wanted to add my voice to the debate. Unless you're not aware - how cool - Sheryl is the COO of Facebook (since 2008) and this new book has now sold 275,000 copies up to last week. She is hoping to create a national movement to help women advance in the workforce and the book became the focus of intense debate even before it's publication on March 11th 2013. It's part feminist manifesto and part how-to career guide. Obviously the book has nothing to do with helping Facebook's languishing share price since it's bungled I.P.O? Or as the Washington Post succinctly put it "simply the elite leading the slightly-less-elite, for the sake of Sandberg's bottom line'. Whatever, she believes feminism has 'stalled' and I think one of the good things this book has done - is that it has got everyone talking and opened up the debate again. I want to be supportive, but I don't think 'Lean In' is the answer, it sounds more like a 1980's mantra and surely we've moved-on from that? Sheryl's message is that 'women internalize the negative messages they get throughout their lives - most men don't. Women are told it's wrong to be outspoken, aggressive and more powerful than men and so rather than pull-back which many women choose to do, she thinks they should 'lean-in'.'
I believe there is a shortage of women in global boardrooms and in senior positions because most women don't want to go there! Not from lack of ability but from preferring to start their own structure - be it a business or joining forces with other like minded people and creating their own cultures and making lifestyle choices. We can do success differently from many men who make themselves ill with heart problems and diabetes by becoming workaholics which doesn't look fun! We want to make the time to unplug and re-charge.
Being a woman has never held me back. If you know your subject - you won't be thrown by anything. But you have to be strong and have the hide of a rhino sometimes from all the sniping successful women get and I understand why many women don't think it's worth it. I think successful women get a huge amount of flak - it goes with the territory - but I found it unbearable sometimes. Tina Brown says "flak means you're hot in business" - so there will be a lot of resentment as it's such a competitive world - but does it have to be like that? There needs to be a complete cultural change from the media to governments to the corporates if they want to appeal to more women.
I find it's interesting that the 'millenials' or 'generation y' as they are sometimes called (those born 1977 to 1993), place a higher value on their work/life balance and have expressed a desire to pursue work that is personally meaningful. They say that they have learnt by watching their mothers (baby boomers) tearing their hair out trying to balance career and family and have no intention of copying them!
In my experience if you lean in too far you're likely to fall flat on your face. There are lifestyle choices women can make and most choose not to be at the top table because it doesn't look that appealing. They want to be more individualistic. Unless there are systematic and cultural changes I think this will continue.
I think it's interesting that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo who also launched her book with much debate is dissing feminism as too negative. I don't think she'd be saying this if she'd been born 20 years earlier when all those amazing women fought for all the fights she doesn't have to now.
Another extraordinary woman - whatever your political views - was Lady Thatcher whose passing has opened up the debate even further. Why are there so few women MP's? I think you just have to look at Prime Minister's Question Time (PMQT) to understand why. All that aggressive city-type blustering is so last decade/century - it's a toxic Punch and Judy show - women don't want to be part of that culture. It's time for a re-think.
(The cartoon character above is of me which one of my film director's drew - it always makes me laugh and I think shows he understood the acrobatic act I had to go through when running my film production company!)
"One girl is worth more use than 20 boys" - Peter Pan - J M Barrie