Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Too few women leaders

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg talking at TEDWomen
Sheryl Sandberg's TEDWomen talk on the lack of women in boardrooms is worth a watch.  There is a very helpful transcript as well as multi-lingual subtitles available too (at the same link)

Three ideas she puts forward for addressing the lack of women in leadership:

1.  Sit at the table - Sandberg contends that women often systematically underestimate their own abilities, and success and likeability tend to be negatively correlated for women (and positively for men). 

2.  Make your partner a real partner - The idea that we've made more progress in balance outside the home than inside it. 

3.  Don't leave before you leave - Meaning don't make changes in your work plans to accomodate children you don't even have yet.

Watch/listen/read for an interesting expansion on all the above.

As is often the case with these kinds of analyses from women who have "made it" there is more focus on the choices of individual women than looking at the systematic and cultural stuff that drives those decisions, which I find annoying. It's as if we just devalue ourselves and make crap decisions about our lives for absolutely no reason whatsoever. While there is some implicit stuff for men to take out of this talk too, it isn't made very explicit, although that may be due to the audience of the talk (i.e. mainly female I think).

What did you think?


Acid Queen said...

More bullshit blaming sexism on women.

If women did everything she says they would still be discrminated against because patriarchy still exists, something she utterly fails to mention.

The glass ceiling is not something that exists because of choices women make.

Julie said...

I really struggle with the whole idea that for women to succeed in the way that men do then individual women need to act like many men do. Why can't we be womanly (whatever that is) and succeed on an equal basis?

That said I think Sandberg does make some points about effectively demanding a better deal, particularly in the home. My observation is though that it's a hard grind for most women if the key men in their lives don't support the cause.

Deborah said...

I watched that talk a few months ago, and felt grumpy about it, because it was all about the things that women could do to make things different. So yes, she has some good points to make about things that individual women can do to achieve success for themselves. But there's no discussion whatsoever about the changes that senior people, both male and female, can make. Like the simple courtesy of in inviting a subordinate to sit at the big table. Or when a subordinate has worked on a big project, making space for that person to present the project to the board, instead of charging in and doing it yourself because you're the boss. Nb: I'm using 'subordinate' in a work related context e.g. Team leader vs team member.

And it's all about individual responses to systemic problems. Of course, over time, if there are enough individual responses then the system will change, but it's hardly likely to effect quick change, and neither does it justify the current relegation of women to the role of making the tea.

Hugh said...

This looks like a typical TED talk to me: Superficial stuff trying to pass itself off as profoundity by using props.

That's not to say these strategies will never work for any given woman, but to use a slightly askew metaphor, it's re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Anonymous said...

Her ideas may not fix all the problems women face in the workplace but at least she offers helful suggestions. A major issue is that we're not socialised to put ourselves forward, and she's trying to change that socialisation. That can only be a good thing.


katy said...

Of course Sheryl Sandberg worked for Larry Summers, famous for attributing a lack of women in science and engineering to a "different availability of aptitude at the high end".

I read a biographical piece about Sheryl Sandberg recently, as far as I remember (among other things) she went to Harvard, and was mentored by, then worked for, Larry Summers. I believe she also had a senior role in the Clinton administration and had a role at the World Bank. I wonder if it is easy to tell other women to be more confident when you have spent your adult life immersed in "power".

I.M Fletcher said...

Jason Mattera has a bit about this “gender pay difference” in a book he wrote. The pay difference/leadership thing basically comes down to lifestyle choices. Here are some truths though, as far as the U.S is concerned anyway -

The “pay gap” for women shrinks to ninety-eight cents for every dollar earned by men, after factoring in work experience, education, and occupation.12 And women in their twenties in big cities, including New York and Dallas, are making nearly 20 percent more than men in their twenties.13

Cait Murphy, a female editor at Fortune magazine, explains the pay differences -

Despite the many advances the women’s movement has brought the U.S., what it hasn’t done, thank heavens, is make men and women the same. The simple fact is–and there is nothing nasty or conspiratorial about it–the sexes continue to choose different avenues of study and different types of jobs.Here’s an illustrative example. The college majors with the top starting salaries, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, are: chemical engineering (almost $60,000), computer engineering, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering. Men make up about 80% of engineering majors. Women predominate among liberal arts majors–whose salaries start at a little morethan $30,000. Putting it all together . . . these differences–in choice of work, years in the workforce, and hours of work–could account for as much as 97.5% of the differences in pay between men and women.

You can read the whole excerpt from the book at Google Books (it isn't that long) -

Moz said...

Julie:I really struggle with the whole idea that for women to succeed in the way that men do then individual women need to act like many men do

If we continue measuring success by what men do, then you're in a tautological position. And I think that money and power are the things men are heavily pressured to value above all else. Equality of the sexes mean women are increasingly pressured the same way. Win?

A slightly different way to view the situation is this: there is a well established path to money and power, which we call "male socialisation". If you want money and power that's the most likely way to get it - something like 1% of men succeed. Other approaches also work, just not as often.

Put that way, your complaint amounts to "society's values are wrong". Which I agree with.

I'm also inclined to the view that it takes a lot of pressure to make people take the "male" path, and it's a high-cost way of life. I'd prefer social change to having more people to compete against for a relatively fixed pool of prizes.

I would rather characterise success as happiness. That's a lot broader than "rich and powerful", and more accessible. And, I think, more useful. I would rather be happy than rich, anyway :)

Julie said...

@Moz, yep I do want to change the world :-)

Amy said...

It may not solve all the world's problems but I found the piece of advice about not leaving before you leave really helpful. Think I've been in danger of doing that lately. Warning taken :)

Anonymous said...

Sorry to cherry pick but the third one - don't leave before you leave - isn't helpful if you have reasons (and there are many) to assume that the whole 'getting pregnant' thing may take a long time, that parenting - for you - may be better entered into from a different place in your working life, that the work you return to will have to look different to what it looks like now in order for you to even imagine making the balance work...etc...etc....

I wonder if she's ever asked a male employee 'are you thinking of having children'?

I like your comment, Julie, because it also assumes that valuing the difference might just (gasp!) be of value to people other than cis-gendered women. Like men who want kids as well as a career and want to do parenthood differently to what their dads did (or not) etc.

tks, Iris.

Zo said...

While I agree there needs to be systemic changes, we need to engage people on an individual level for there to be any momentum for change. I think this video is also aimed at individuals (as most TED talks are), hence the individual focus.
However, we're having a women in politics talk as part of Women's futures month, and it would be good to ask the MPs coming to that about what can be done on a more collective/systemic level, so thanks for bringing this up. Feel free to share your thoughts on our page :) http://www.facebook.com/womensfutures