Leaning In to International Women’s Day

Boy I know you love it

How we smart enough to make these millions

Strong enough to bear the children

Then get back to business

– Beyonce, Run The World (Girls)

Saturday was a special day for many reasons. It was my 3 year anniversary with Matt, and my good Friend Emily’s 21st Birthday celebration, and it was also International Women’s Day. The last of the special events is what I want to talk about today.

This summer, a friend of mine recommended that I read the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. She had brought up many times throughout the summer because of the recognizable gender differences in the food service industry (where we were working at the time). I had never before considered myself a feminist, and honestly, I was a little afraid of the word. After reading Sandberg’s book, I am no longer afraid to call myself a feminist, and I’m proud to be one.

For those of you who don’t know, Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, and before that she was a top dog at Google. In her book she shares stories, behaviors and actions that take place in today’s workforce and how detrimental they can be to women’s career goals and aspirations. She’s encouraging women to Lean In to their careers, to not be afraid to take chances and go confidently in the direction of our dreams. She asks her readers “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” and she encourages all of us to do whatever that might be.

She begins the book with a discussion of the ways in which we sabotage ourselves as women. Yes. I was shocked too. Half of the problem, comes from within. It turns out that I am one of my worst offenders.

Sandberg sites a study of successful men and women. The men who participated in the study attribute their success to their own qualities, whereas women attribute their success to external factors. I know that I have been guilty of saying that “I was in the right place at the right time.” or “I got lucky.” instead of attributing my success to hard work, skill and talent. This is only one of the many ways we as women depreciate ourselves.

But fear not strong ladies, Sandberg offers up a solution. She encourages all women to go after every opportunity offered to them, even if it is only a few months before their maternity leave, or if it isn’t exactly in you repertoire. She encourages women to “sit at the table,” an analogy she uses throughout the book from a story she told about a conference she held, where all the men sat at the table, leaving the few women invited to sit in the back and corners of the room.

She also encourages women to be confident, and even if you aren’t, you can fake it. She sites Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk (available to watch on Netlfix under the Life Hacks Ted Talks), about how our body language can help us exude confidence, even if we are full of self-doubt inside. The point is, that if you fake it for long enough, you’ll actually start to feel confident, and eventually become confident.

She also calls out leaders and high-ups to acknowledge that women have less confidence than men in our professional lives and once that becomes a factor, women will be given the same ability as men to rise to the top. “If we want a world with greater equality, we need to acknowledge that women are less likely to keep their hands up.”

One of my favorite things about Sandberg’s outlook on gender differences in the workplace, is that she never says that women and men are the same. She acknowledges the difference in emotions and confidence and offers up solutions around those differences, instead of just saying “women and men are equal and should be treated as such.” The reality is that women and men are very different, we deal with things in different ways, and she realizes that in order for us to create and equal society, we need to acknowledge and celebrate the differences between men and women, not falsely cover them up.

In my eyes, one of the most blatant ways in which women hold ourselves back, comes from our desire to be liked. I never realized how much I hold myself back by trying to be nice to everyone around me. I want to be liked, I want to be a friend and nice and a person that all others love, but I also want to be accomplished and rise to the top, which in the world of business, are two conflicting ideals, especially for women.

The most obvious way that women sabotage their careers by trying to be liked, is by using self-doubt. As women, it has become more obvious to me after reading Lean In, that women must self doubt in order to be liked. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I have put myself down to be considered likable, for a laugh, or just to sound like a “nice girl.” I don’t ever want to come across as over confident or “cocky” because women hate that in other women.

“If a woman is competent, she does not seem nice enough. If a woman is really nice, she is considered less competent.”

Sandberg has recently taken a stand against the word “bossy” this week in celebration of the one year anniversary of Lean In. She joins former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and CEO of the Girl Scouts, Anna Maria Chavez in the launching of a campaign to end the word bossy. We tell little girls in the early years of their life to “not be so bossy.” What we are really saying to them is that nobody likes a bossy girl, and that women shouldn’t lead, because let’s face it, in order to lead you’ve gotta be a little “bossy” once in awhile. I have seen women in my own workplace, struggle to assert their authority because they are worried about being mean, or bossy. The problem with this, is that the more we worry about being disliked, the more we struggle to do our jobs and to lead confidently.

Check out this week’s Parade insert in your Sunday paper for more information on the campaign. But now, back to the book.

The second half of Lean In goes into the details of having a family and trying to sustain a career, and the ways in which women can learn to juggle both. I found one of the most compelling solutions: to find a partner who supports you. This is one really key factor that I never realized was so important until I read this book. Time and time again I have seen brilliant and talented women fall back on their significant others because it’s easier to give up than to keep going.

Sandberg brings this idea to life when she compares a career to running a marathon.

“The male marathoners are routinely cheered on: “Lookin’ strong! On your way!” But the female runners hear a different message. “You know you don’t have to do this!” the crowd shouts. Or “Good start-but you probably won’t want to finish.”

I had never had this phenomenon explained to me better in my life. It’s really true. Growing up, women are taught they can do anything a man can do, but when the going get’s tough, they don’t really have to finish their careers out strong. They are told that they don’t have to have a career when they have a successful husband. We are told that we could make life easier by being home with the kids, and that our husbands can take care of providing for the family. And while Sandberg recognizes that homemaking is a perfectly acceptable life choice for a woman to make, those who start out strong, are encouraged by society not to finish.

I have seen co-workers and friends give up on following their dreams because they have significant others who make much more than they do, and they don’t have to work to live a comfortable life. I have even heard people tell me after a long day of work “You’re boyfriend is a Mechanical Engineer, you could quit one of your jobs.” “You’ve got a successful guy, what do you need a career for?” I’m already being surrounded by messages that are telling me not to keep running.

Sandberg says that the main reason why women fail to rise to the top is because their salaries barely cover the cost of child care. This is a problem that I see all the time working at the daycare. Many women think that working isn’t worth it, staying home would even out with the high costs of sending their kids to the YMCA or other child care centers. Sheryl reminds us that while when our children are young, usually our careers are too. If women can stick it out and continue to push through the small return of their early careers, we can rise to the top later and thrive as our children and our careers get older.

While I don’t have kids,  I plan to someday, and if life ever tells me that I should stop running, I will remember Sandberg’s words of wisdom. I will choose to keep running, keep pushing, and keep trying because I have big dreams and I don’t want society or money to crush them.

If you’ve been at all curious, excited, happy or confused about anything I’ve been talking about, I urge you to read Lean In. If you are starting out your career, read Lean In. If you’re a mother, daughter, sister, wife, girlfriend, niece or granddaughter, read Lean In. If your partner is struggling to sit at the table, finish her marathon, or Lean In to her career, read Lean In. If you are a woman, or know a women, I highly recommend you read Lean In.

Now, I would like to celebrate the amazing women in my life …

My two amazing sisters who have been my role models for what a strong, independent, educated woman should be. Oh, and they’re both amazing working mothers who help support their families.

Michelle

Stacey

My mother, who went back to work full time a few years ago after my father was laid off from his job. She’s made more sacrifices for me, my sisters and her grandchildren than most other mom’s have, and I only had to move away from home to realize that.

Susan

My Nana, who dedicated her whole life to taking great care of her family and her home while her husband went to work. She also was the primary caregiver for her parents in their old age, and her husband (my grandfather) in his final months of life as he battled lung cancer.

MomandNana

My best friend Becca, who recently went on a mission trip to Haiti, dedicating her time to orphans in need. Not to mention, has always been there for me no matter how far away, or how many bad decisions I’ve made!

Becca

My good friend Lydia, who is spending the next two years of her life as an Occupational Therapist in Cameroon. In the picture below, she is marching for International Women’s Day!

Lydia

The amazing women of the Saratoga Regional YMCA’s Malta Child Care Center who dedicate their lives to educating and caring for other people’s children.

MAltaChildCare

My good friend Dana, who has been through more hard times than I could ever have imagined, and come out an amazing mother to her beautiful 3 year old daughter, Lucy.

Dana

And finally, these four ladies who have been with me through thick and thin and help me laugh more, smile more, drink more, and love more.

AshDukeKatieChels

For all of these amazing women, I am so thankful, blessed and honored to call me family and friends.

I hope everyone takes time out this week to appreciate the women in their lives. I know I’ll be thinking about how I can contribute to womankind and Lean In to every aspect of life.

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