Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, writes a book and creates a program encouraging women in business to Lean In, to take risks, to move their careers by overcoming their own internalization of gender stereotypes that keep us down. Heavy press follows, and with it an (un)fair share of criticism. Jody Greenstone Miller, in the Wall Street Journal, re-frames the problem as a misdiagnosis of what women need. They need better scheduling and more time. Valid point, short on concrete ideas. Sandberg trumps Miller. What’s wrong with this picture?
While at Yahoo, CEO Marissa Mayer, has a problem to solve. Mayer, another high profile woman executive, is burdened with the mantle of representing the needs of all women. So when she makes a tough decision to limit telecommuting at Yahoo, she gets blasted by feminists as not bearing the flag for their scheduling needs. She is vilified.
What chutzpah Mayer has! She is doing the job she was hired to do. Be a visionary leader. Identify and solve a crisis in community at Yahoo. Believe that building community comes only from when people play off one another’s creative juices in person, up close and in your face.
Mayer is also right. Creativity is stifled when that layer of technology, however clever, is superimposed on the workplace. The time around the cooler, the tension in the room where an idea is being born, and the opportunity to look someone in the eye and make them look back at you and feel how the rest of the group is playing off and building on that moment, have no substitutes.
Mayer’s solution–get everyone back at the mothership to save the company. Don’t tarry over the “maybe we could let this person do this and that person do that” to appease. Too easy to lose her focus on the goal. And whether you agree or not, she makes the decisions and takes the responsibility. That’s a leader from whom we could and should learn, both women and men.
With all this controversy, where does that leave this special group, “women who work in the professional world?” Should we all train to “lean in” so we further our careers? Should we demand schedule flexibility? Should we protest doing our job the way the CEO strongly believes it needs to be done?
All three of these women have the right idea. They all have valuable lessons to teach women and men who want a fully engaged and highly productive workforce. So in the professional working woman’s world, where women have enough challenges and barriers, from gender bias to gender pay gaps, throwing cold water on the legitimate efforts of others is an enormous waste of time and energy.
This new wave of feminism, need not be all about the right answers, but about the right questions. How can we “lean in” to lead better? Thank you Sandberg for asking and giving us such a great platform for that one. How can we re-model the workplace to work for women? Kudos to Miller for staking out that issue. And how do we support leaders who make difficult decisions, especially when they are women who have made them, and don’t conform to new feminist ideas or style? Good move Mayer, you are a role model for women who must take a gutsy though unpopular stance.
The real winner is…..women who can learn from anyone willing to get up and lead and teach and share. The world is a big enough place for lots of champions. Take your pick, or take them all.