Sheryl Sandberg, Class Day, and Being A Girl

I should just freely admit here and now that Sheryl Sandberg has been on my list of women to watch for quite some time.  I tend to seek out her speeches and her TED talk (transcript here) remains one of my all-time favorites, although there are certain unsatisfying moments in there, to be sure.

Anyway, the Wall Street Journal recently published a piece about her that annoyed me.  Here’s the gist in two sentences: A different executive founded a company that doesn’t exist anymore, even though she got pretty famous during the dot com era.   Sandberg, like this other girl woman – like all girls women, the article implied pretty strongly – is just another flash in the pan, so we can safely ignore her.  After the initial flicker of anger, I have to admit that I was overcome by yawns.  Really, some dude thinks that women can’t lead, especially not in technology?  If they were giving out cookies for originality, you would go home hungry, writer man dude boy!

Speaking up about gender in the workplace takes some serious guts, especially in public. People assume that women who do this are bitter about their own workplaces or careers (we may be, but we may just be interested in a wider conversation) or that we’re engaging in personal venting, rather than attempting to reflect on serious, systemic problems and encourage others to do so.  People who speak up are rare, and they are needed.  In her Class Day speech to graduating MBAs at Harvard Business School, Sandberg had this to say about her own career (emphasis mine):

I recently started speaking up about the challenges women face in the workforce, something I only had the courage to do in the last few years. Before this, I did my career like everyone else does it. I never told anyone I was a girl. Don’t tell. I left the lights on when I went home to do something for my kids. I locked my office door and pumped milk for my babies while I was on a conference call. People would say, what’s that sound. I would say, ‘What sound? I hear a beep. It’s a fire truck.’

She calls out a phenomenon here that really hit home for me: I have spent significant portions of my career trying to never tell anyone that I was a girl, long before I was a mother, in making choices about how to perform gender in the workplace. Before I had a Simmons education and the confidence that comes with it under my belt, I was uncomfortable rewarding my team or catalyzing a birthday celebration in the office because those activities could tag me as girly in an environment where girly means weak and weak means being targeted for harassment.  The funny thing about never telling anyone that you’re a girl, though, is that it doesn’t turn you into a guy.  I didn’t get invited to the same networking opportunities outside of work that men did, and there was plenty of sexism to contend with no matter how much I minimized my performance of femininity.

Gradually, I was able to find more of a balance, thanks to experience, and Simmons, and a genuine desire to operate as my authentic self – who admittedly isn’t very girly, but does enjoy a good celebration with the team, perception of weakness be damned.  Still, when I attempted to be forthright about my own pumping – by posting a “Pumping in Progress” sign on my office door – a coworker commented on the brazenness of my sign.  How dare I reveal that I was a girl in plain sight like that!  Shh…don’t tell!

I really like what Sandberg goes on to say next about women, leadership, and work (emphasis mine):

We need to acknowledge openly that gender remains an issue at the highest levels of leadership. The promise of equality is not equality. We need to start talking about this.

We need to start talking about how women underestimate their abilities compared to men and for women, but not men. Success and likeability are negatively correlated. That means that as a woman is more successful in your workplaces, she will be less liked. This means that women need a different form of management and mentorship, a different form of sponsorship and encouragement, and some protection, in some ways more than men.

There aren’t enough senior women out there to do it, so it falls upon the men who are graduating today just as much or more as the women, not just to talk about gender but to help these women succeed. When they hear a woman is really great at her job but not liked, take a deep breath and ask why. We need to start talking openly about the flexibility all of us need to have both a job and a life.

A couple of weeks ago in an interview I said that I leave the office at 5 p.m. to have dinner with my children, and I was shocked at the press coverage. One of my friends said I couldn’t get more headlines if I had murdered someone with an ax! This showed me this is an unresolved issue for all of us, men and women. Otherwise, why did everyone write so much about it?

And this is the funny thing: along with not trying to let on that we’re girls, we’re expected to operate as if this kind of comment about one’s children didn’t generate the headlines, even though it does; as if success and likeability are not in conflict for women, even though they are (and even though women tend to be socialized to really care whether or not we’re liked); as if the dearth of women in top management seats and on boards means a shortage of talent, even though the evidence indicates that there is still a whole boatload of systemic conscious and unconscious bias that women face that keep them out of these positions.  The cognitive dissonance is massive, naming it is still transgressive, and navigating it is both mandatory and complex.

Recapping Women Who Tech

Having unfortunately missed the Simmons Leadership Conference this year in the throes of a really busy semester (and also that whole working full time with a new baby thing), I was especially excited to be able to participate in Women Who Tech this year.  It was a great, great day – super inspiring, and I had great conversations with the amazing women of #wwt on the tweetscapes.

Harnessing Your Power could have been an extended meeting unto itself – so many gems of wisdom from that session!  It was an amazing reminder that emotional intelligence is so, so critical in deploying our power, particularly in male-dominated environments.  The path to power lies in getting back to the basics of understanding the currency of power in your organization, taking calculated risks, developing an awareness of your environment, speaking and acting with confidence, and being self-aware of what Carla Harris called “your good, bad, and ugly.”  All of this takes emotional intelligence, of course.

Until business school, I never would have considered myself at all inclined toward entrepreneurship, but the women from the Fireside Chats and Funding Your Own Startup panels are the kind of women who make me want to jump in and try something.  I’ve only been using Waze for a couple of days, and it makes commuting feel like a fun and friendly adventure, while keeping it short and stress-free.  I loved all of the insights about how to get a business funded – reminiscent of my strategy class this semester, I loved hearing that not every business needs venture funding and not every business needs to be high-return or venture-backed in order to be considered a good business.  The funding style needs to align with the endeavor and the strategy and the mission.  I’m not sure that I had connected those dots in precisely that way before.  I’m still ruminating on this quote, which I tweeted during the session: “Don’t take the institutional money if all they are doing is throwing the money in and walking away.”  Powerful stuff.

The end of the day brought the panel on digital rights and privacy, and while I have generally avoided talking much about the nym wars, I really appreciated hearing the perspective of the group. Enforcing real names is all well and good until you’re being stalked, you’re quietly trying to leave your toxic employer, you’re blogging about the seedy underbelly of your industry or you’re shining a light on discriminatory practices at your school or office, just to name a few examples.  In reality, identities online exist on a spectrum and different levels of disclosure are appropriate in different situations depending on who you are and what you do and what you’re on about. These issues disproportionately affect people in groups that have historically been marginalized.

Overall, it was a fantastic day and I can’t wait to watch the sessions that I missed once all of the recordings are posted.

A few words about my MBA

Three years ago, I attended the Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston.  At the time, I had been managing people for a couple of years and was thinking that I could use some leadership training to hone this new skill set I was in the process of developing.  I was particularly drawn to the focus on women leaders due to the dearth of female role models I was encountering in leadership roles at the company where I was employed at the time.  I found myself dropping by the Admissions booth for the MBA program a couple of times during the course of the day.  In the car on the way home, I remarked to my coworker that I thought I would get an MBA from Simmons.  I thought I was kidding, though – it had never seriously occurred to me to pursue an MBA, and I very much liked my free time.

I started casually looking into what the admissions process required.  Each task seemed so doable!  Essays? Sure, I can write a couple of essays.  GMAT? Sure, I can prep for a couple of weeks and take an incredibly stressful standardized test. Transcripts? No problem. Recommendations from bosses? Sure, I’ll chase those down.  Before I knew it, I was visiting classes and attending info sessions and generally steeping myself in the intoxicating atmosphere of power and principled leadership that infuses Simmons events and Simmons women.  I applied.  I was accepted right before the semester started in August 2009 and immediately started classes.

It all happened too quickly for me to properly contemplate the effect this decision was about to have on my life and my free time.  This is probably a good thing.

For three years, I took 2-3 classes during the Spring and Fall semesters and 1-2 classes each Summer to fulfill all of the requirements of my degree.  Along the way, I met amazing women from all sorts of backgrounds, with all kinds of jobs; brilliant, talented, driven women; women I admired and respected; amazing partners on projects and sounding boards and coworkers and companions on what felt, at times, like an impossibly arduous journey.

At no time did my MBA feel more impossible than when I discovered that I was pregnant early last year.  There were the Spring classes that I coped with through morning sickness and exhaustion of early pregnancy.  Summer brought one class and an independent study project and a whole slew of planning – could I finish my degree even remotely on time? What about Fall classes and the probability that my baby would arrive sometime around midterms?  Through it all, the amazing program staff, accommodating professors, and my supportive cohort of students carried me through.  Thanks to their help, I was able to complete my Fall classes and get through a three class semester this Spring.

I finished the year one credit short of completing my degree (I missed a compressed required course in the Fall out of concern that my impending delivery might get in the way) and last week, I walked at graduation with my incredible cohort.

“What are you going to do with your MBA?” a stranger asked me while we were waiting in line to get ice cream this weekend.  To me, the MBA isn’t so much a means to a cushy job or a palatial estate as it is a state of mind, a set of tools, and a foundation of confidence and preparedness for whatever comes next.   I can tell you what I have already done with my almost-MBA: broke down the causes of the financial crisis for friends and family members, passed along models that explain communication styles or organizational behaviors, helped myself and other manage change, became a better manager of people and projects, internalized the concepts embodied in the Giving Voice to Values curriculum, talked to my fellow students about work-life-school balance, got a new job in a company that is better suited to me and in an industry where I feel at home, took more risks, took the MBA Oath, gained confidence, amortized loans, led by example, gave better presentations, developed financial forecasts for a budding non-profit, and expected more from my employer, my life, and myself.

I am proud of what I have achieved so far, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Between work, school, and pregnancy, my plate has been rather full.  Not blogging has been one major consequence…and another is that Ada Lovelace Day has sneaked up on me this year, in spite of the switch from March to October.

Rather than post a partial post, I plan to just quietly raise my glass to a few women I know who have personally inspired me in my career, and do a lot of reading today instead of writing.

You can find the Ada Day posts in all of their glory at Finding Ada.  Happy reading!

Happy New Year!

I snapped this picture of Namco's Pac-Man float as it went by.

In case you’re wondering, the Rose Parade was amazing.  Way better in person than it is on TV, and you can really appreciate all of the time and attention that goes in to even the smallest, humblest float.  As a former marching band nerd myself, I am in awe of the students who traveled from near and far to walk, play, and dance the five miles of parade route on what for some of them must have felt like a really cold morning to be outside.

Pac-Man here was undoubtedly my favorite float. I failed to read ahead in the program, so I had no idea it was coming, and I’m sure I screamed right in my Dad’s ear when it came into view.  Huge, vivid, and amazingly detailed, this float alone was worth the price of admission in my opinion.   The float was accompanied by its own band, complete with Pac-Man tuba covers, which you can see toward the bottom of this picture here.  I wish I had video, too, because the float was playing Pac-Man Fever and it really was quite the sight to behold.

I was slightly disappointed to see that La Canada Flintridge didn’t pick up the Viewer’s Choice trophy for their animated construction vehicles bopping along to The Safety Dance, but I did love Cal Poly’s float as well, so I was pleased to see them pick up Viewer’s Choice honors.

It’s hard to believe that I was sitting there on Colorado Boulevard in (that day, at least) sunny Southern California only a couple of weeks ago as I’m looking out at the mammoth snowbanks surrounding my domicile here in the frozen North.  I wish I could say that I’m relaxed and refreshed and ready for school to begin on Monday, but circumstances being what they are in less idyllic corners of my world, I haven’t gotten in as much true downtime as I would normally like to fuel my semester sprint.  Nevertheless, I’m gearing up as best I can and looking forward to a good next semester.  It seems like a small milestone, but I will officially cross the half-way mark sometime this semester and it feels good to be making progress through the program.

As an aside, a few gaming non sequiturs:

  • Super Scribblenauts: Stealing a gift from an ex’s wedding?  Really?  Who writes this stuff?
  • Little Big Planet 2: I was expecting lighthearted and I got steampunk instead – I’m interested to see how it plays out.
  • Worms: The best old game I had completely missed.  Hat tip to my brother for introducing it to me!
  • DSi XL: Love it.  And not just because I downloaded Dragon’s Lair 2: Time Warp!

Off to buy some textbooks, my dears – hope you’re having a wonderful 2011 so far.

Happy Holidays

In the immortal words of Scruffy, the janitor – I’m on break.  If I’m not here catching up on posting, here’s what I’ll be up to:

I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year!

I was a Katie

In case you haven’t read about Katie by now, go do that first. It’s ok. I’ll wait.

As I mentioned in my last post before I went on semester hiatus, I used to be into things that my peers reviled me for being into. It wasn’t just my peers, actually. I had a heated argument in class with my 7th grade science teacher, because he tried to insist that there was no life on other planets. I thought he should append “as we know it” to “life” because to me, it seemed not only possible but likely that other planets orbiting other suns evolved some form of life. And as I was into sciencey things, I knew that people were talking about the possibility of silicon-based life forms. But, no – he berated me in front of the class for this intellectual curiosity, and if I hadn’t already been labeled as a huge nerd, that surely would have sealed the deal for me with my peers. But you know what? It turned out I was right. Put that in your arsenic-based pipe and smoke it, Mr. N!

I know it isn’t much, but I wanted to add my voice to the list of people letting Katie know that she isn’t alone.

Katie, I made a similar decision about chess when I was a kid. I wore glasses, I was smart, and I was already into so many things that made me seem nerdy and “weird” to my classmates that to this day, I don’t play, even though I would probably really enjoy it.

I’m so glad that your mom told everyone about you so that we could write to and about you, and I hope that things are getting better for you at your school.

One thing that I would just like to add, briefly – I’m sure that a lot of the people who have been posting about you really do mean well when they tell you how much boys will love you for liking Star Wars when you’re older. Except that not all boys like Star Wars, and if they did, I still wouldn’t want to set up their future approval of you as a prize that you should be striving for. Today, right here, right now, I really hope that you approve of you. I hope that you know you’re not alone. And I hope you know that the Force will be with you, always.

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