In the past month, three prominent and powerful super-achieving women have gone on record with their secrets for success. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook put forward her Lean-In program designed to re-design a woman’s approach to her work. In rapid and critical response, Jodie Greenstone Miller offered her cure for what ails women—more time. And Marissa Mayer, perhaps unwittingly, unleashed a fierce and fearsome debate, as to how much the workplace can adapt to women’s needs at home before it loses its effectiveness to do the job.
Each one has a different approach; each one focuses on a different problem, and each one is faced with battling forces that leave little room for alternative opinions and points of view. And the basic questions put forth are: “How do women get ahead? How do they adapt to the business workplace? And how should that workplace adapt to their needs?”
Let’s first take Facebook COO Sandberg who, in her new movement introduced in her new book Lean In, peddles the point of view that women have to take responsibility to aggressively build skills and persona to become leaders and rise to the top. Change the workplace gender dynamic by getting involved, showing them what you have, but first learn the rules and develop the skills.
Sandberg focuses on an important player in the world of business politics—the advancer. This is the woman who wants to climb, to get involved, to lead, and who wants to give up other parts of her life and dive full force into the fray.
Now, not everyone can (or wants to) be this kind of leader, a Sheryl Sandberg. But everyone can learn something from Sheryl Sandberg. Now, if the names behind her concept were Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, no one would criticize this very aggressive top down/bottom up approach to creating women as leaders in business. But she comes at it as a woman, so her critics are many and some harsh and dismissive.
Sandberg’s approach suggests a triad: create a broad on-line community, educate women about workplace barriers and how to overcome them and promote networking through in person sharing of stories and solutions through “lean-in” circles. Her prescription is specific and is supported by masterful use of the internet, a place she commands well, in addition to more traditional forms of print media (her book) and personal relationships. Her approach is groundbreaking, but her message may be hard to digest for those women who enthusiastically have jumped into the workplace with little progress and much disappointment for the last 30 years.
And that is where Wall Street Journal columnist and business entrepreneur, Jody Greenstone Miller, President of her own Business Talent Group, advances her agenda. Her pointed dismissal of Sandberg’s misdiagnosis of the problem in the opening paragraphs of her opinion piece, has merit on its own terms, but not just instead of what Sandberg proposes.
She posits that the real woman’s issue is time, she states without doubt, with no room for other opinions. Miller appropriately hammers the rigidity of the workplace, and sees flexibility in time as the panacea for what women want. The way work gets done in American corporations (hospitals, law firms, assembly lines?) can be re-engineered, project by project to adapt to the way women want to work.
Miller has a very legitimate point, and one that I share. Find out why and how, tomorrow!