Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Yes, I know that it will be hard for some of my friends in Kentucky to believe, but the tastiest part of my lunch today is the humble seaweed salad.

I don't know what they do to this at "Sushi Folies" here in Paris, but it is delicious.  Add to that some tasty pickled ginger, soy sauce with a little wasabi, topping my favorite pieces of salmon and tuna sushi, maki, and sashimi, and I am one happy girl.  Happy enough, even to be content sitting at my desk getting ready to edit my annual self-evaluation once again.

As my friends in Dakar said if I walked by when they were having lunch, "Let's Eat!"

Sunday, April 14, 2013

“Lean In,” by Sheryl Sandberg
Chapter Four: “It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder”

The title of this chapter was taken from a quote by Fortune Magazine editor Pattie Sellers, who said “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” When we talk about“climbing the corporate ladder,” we’re referring to an upward only strategy that leads directly from to promotion to promotion within the same company. Today’s careers are not shaped that way. A quote in the book from the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that “As of 2010, the average American had eleven jobs from the ages of eighteen to forty-six alone.” Many of those jobs involve difficult choices, sideways moves, unexpected changes in employer, changes in location, etc. 

Here’s Sandberg’s take on the jungle gym metaphor: “Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The jungle gym model benefits everyone, but especially women who might be starting careers, switching careers, getting blocked by external barriers, or reentering the workforce after taking time off. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours, and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment. Plus, a jungle gym provides great views for many people, not just those at the top.”

In this chapter, Sandberg advocates having both a long-term and a shorter-term (18 month) plan. She says that the long-term plan can be quite vague. Sandberg herself “hoped to change the world.” She also mentions a piece of job advice that Google’s CEO gave her when she was debating whether or not to take a job with his company. He told her that “only one criterion mattered when picking a job – fast growth.” She found his advice true for her. She rephrases it “to seek out positions where there is high demand for” your skills. Sandberg winds up this chapter by emphasizing the importance of learning new skills; taking risks; and advocating for the recognition you deserve, like promotions.

Though there is nothing wrong with this chapter, I find myself singularly uninspired. Whereas the previous chapters inspired me, made me feel that she understood my internal struggles, and gave me hope that positive advice would be forthcoming; this chapter seemed like a clever title chosen to wrap up vague advice that was already more than adequately alluded to in the previous chapters. If I had been the editor, I would have wrapped this chapter up into one of the earlier ones.

Again, I hope that the next chapters give me more substantive advice on which to base future career decisions.
Photo credit: http://joshuawo.tumblr.com/ and Parentdish.com / corbis

Monday, April 08, 2013

“Lean In,” by Sheryl Sandberg, Chapter Three: “Success and Likeability”

I have always wanted to be liked, but did not think that you could really worry about that in the working world. After reading “Lean In,” Chapter Three, I find I am more confused about whether “being liked” is a positive quality in the working world.

One of my earliest experiences with this question of likeability as an adult was at University. I had a great group of friends, some of whom I hung out with a lot, others of whom I saw regularly, but all of whom I considered friends. I come from the south, and from a family of huggers, so often I would express my affection for my friends by giving them a big hug. In fact, it was an expectation. I thought that hugging was a sign of how much you liked someone. A friend set me straight. He didn’t like hugs. He didn’t want to be hugged every time I saw him, and he told me, “You need to learn when to hug and when not to hug.” He made it clear that we were still friends; that he still liked me; but that he just didn’t want to have to hug me every time he saw me. It wasn’t his thing.

That was a lesson that I took with me to both my professional relationships and my work relationships. Just because something works for me, doesn’t mean it works for everyone. And just because I don’t agree with someone, doesn’t mean we can’t like each other. You’ve got to feel out each situation and each person individually and figure out what works.

Despite the conflicting information in this chapter, I think that’s what Sheryl Sandberg is trying to tell us. We need to be liked in the business world in order to rise, but we have to lead at the same time. And we have to be aware that a woman needs to meet her goals in a way that doesn’t lead to being labeled “uncooperative, arrogant, not a team player.” Unfortunately, according to this chapter, we also have to keep our accomplishments muted, walk the tightrope of likeability, and still be brave enough and have enough faith in our accomplishments to be able to negotiate on a level with our male colleagues.

The Chapter ends on another paradoxical note. Invited to a meeting called the “Most Powerful Women Summit,” Sandberg asked to have the name changed to something more innocuous. Summit organizers explained that they “chose this name on purpose to force women to confront their own power and feel more comfortable with the word.” Sandberg “still struggles with this. I am fine applying the world ‘powerful’ to other women – the more the better – but I still shake my head in denial when it is applied to me. The nagging voice in the back of my head reminds me, as it did in business school, “Don’t flaunt your success, or even let people know about your success. If you do, people won’t like you.”

When her Facebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg, reviewed her performance after six months, he told her that her “desire to be liked by everyone would hold her back. He said that when you want to change things, you can’t please everyone. If you do please everyone, you aren’t making enough progress. Mark was right.”

Mark was, of course, right, but this Chapter undermines its own conclusion. Do we shield others from our accomplishments so that they don’t think us arrogant, or do we push forward so that we “make enough progress” and begin to feel comfortable with women’s power. The Chapter only leaves me with questions.

Looks like I’ll have to figure this particular quandary out myself.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

“Lean In,” by Sheryl Sandberg
Chapter Two: “Sit at the Table”

This book is better than a pep talk for me. It’s also coming at the perfect time in my career, a moment when I find myself saying a lot “I know I've been lucky.” “I know I've moved up fast.” “Not sure why that happened, guess I was just in the right job at the right time with the right supervisor.” Now, all of that is true, but the point that Sandberg makes in this chapter is that women tend to underestimate their contribution to their success, and they tend to undersell themselves. I know that this has been true of me and my career.

Because it’s not just about the “institutional obstacles,” a big part of it is that “women face a battle from within.” As an example, Sandberg cites a keynote speech that Peggy McIntosh gave on “feeling like a fraud.” Reading Sandberg’s reaction to the speech, I realized it’s the same reaction I’m having to her book. “At last, someone was articulating exactly how I felt.”

Sandberg goes on to explain about the “impostor syndrome” and how women constantly underestimate themselves. I know it’s true of me. In the past I have been told – usually by men – that I have a tendency to dwell on my mistakes, on my negative characteristics. One particularly smart boss pointed out as my “area of weakness” that I often had good questions, but undermined them by always prefacing with some sort of self-effacing comment like “I know I don’t really understand this,” or “I’ve never done anything like this before, so I’m not sure that I’m asking the right question.”

My friend Emily used to talk about how she used “smile therapy” to bring her up when she was feeling down. Sandberg talks about the same solution. Just as “lack of self confidence can be a self-fulfilling prophecy,” using a strategy of “faking it until you feel it” can be empowering and so much more rewarding. Like the women in this chapter, I too have said many times, “I can’t really do that, I’ve never done it before,” where my male colleagues often say some version of “bring it on, I can handle it.”

The point of the chapter is to believe in ourselves. Exercise confidence. Of course, recognize those around you who have helped bring you to where you are, but accept the accolades that come to you for the work that you have done.

Don’t hesitate, don’t sit to the side when you should be at the table, don’t shy away from a challenge. Go out there and get it, girl – you've earned it!

Friday, April 05, 2013

My impressions of Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," Chapter One.

First, some quotes: (page 14) "My generation was raised in an era of increasing equality, a trend we thought would continue. In retrospect, we were naive and idealistic. Integrating professional and personal aspirations proved far more challenging than we had imagined. During the same years that our careers demanded maximum time investment, our biology demanded that we have children. Our partners did not share the housework and child rearing, so we found ourselves with two full-time jobs. The workplace did not evolve to give us the flexibility we needed to fulfill our responsibilities at home. We anticipated none of this. We were caught by surprise.”

(page 16) “Even among highly educated professional men and women, more men than women describe themselves as "ambitious." 

The first quote embodies the problem that I discussed over and over again with my friend Diana when we both had our first children. Things have changed for women over the past two generations. Things have changed dramatically, and thankfully so. We have choices our parents and grandparents could never have imagined. However, the societal norms surrounding those choices have not changed.

Even for women like myself who have an ideal partner, one who changes diapers, bathes the children, reads them stories, cooks, and cleans, you get the picture. Even for us, our new role is society is not clear. Here we are, working hard all day at our own jobs, and instead of having the ability to come home and put our feet up on the coffee table and call for a beer, as the men two generations ago probably did, we have to continue to work. Granted, this is new for men as well, but they get all the praise when they add that child care and house work label to their responsibilities. Women just get the question marks – how do I do this and make sure my kids are well taken care of too? Am I a bad mother because I’m not there all the time like my mom was? We've got the questions, but no one has the answers.

As for the second quote, my boss recently said that he knows I'm ambitious. I had several reactions. I was surprised, I didn't really think that it described me, and I really didn't like it. However, now I'm rethinking it, and wondering if maybe I ought to be proud that that is the way he identified me. I’m ambitious, so what? Even if I didn't realize it, it’s probably a good thing. I take my work seriously and I strive to be good at it. Seems like something that should be rewarded.

And before we leave Chapter One, one more quote: Page 23. “As Ellen Bravo, director of the Family Values @ Work consortium, observed, most ‘women are not thinking about “having it all,” they're worried about losing it all -- their jobs, their children's health, their family's financial stability - because of the regular conflicts that arise between being a good employee and a responsible parent.’

For many men, the fundamental assumption is that they can have both a professional life and a fulfilling personal life. For many women, the assumption is that trying to do both is difficult at best, and impossible at worst. Women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and careers. They are told over and over that they have to choose, because if they try to do too much, they'll be harried and unhappy. Framing the issue as "work-life balance" - as If the two we diametrically opposed- practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?”

This part is interesting and right on the money. It’s exactly the point that Diana Bergen Ripple and I were discussing about ten years ago. In fact, the answer is drawn right from the title of Anne Marie Slaughter’s controversial article – “We Can’t Have it All.” The “all” that women are trying to have is what men used to have and what women used to have. No one has ever had that. What we’re doing now is merging two ways of living that used to be separated by traditional gender roles that have now collapsed. I can’t ask my husband to bring me a beer on the couch when he’s busy helping me get the kids bathed, fed, and ready for dinner.

And we haven’t yet even touched on a huge part that’s missing. Women can work both outside and inside the home with the support of their partners. We’re starting to understand and accept that. However, what about the woman’s time for herself? Men used to work all week, then hang out with the boys or go golfing. So far, “Lean In” hasn't addressed that issue at all. A mom that only works and takes care of her family is a good mom, but they may not be a happy person. Somewhere in this mix, we've got to find the right amount of time for personal fulfillment.

Work-life balance. That’s what I want to find at the end of the day. I’m still hopeful that this book is going to lead me there.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

I have begun to read Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In," and my initial impression is: "this is the book I've been waiting for."


I've only read the intro, "Internalizing the Revolution," and Chapter One, and I'm hoping to give a chapter by chapter review because I have a feeling, based on other reviews I've read and heard, that my appreciation may change as I move through the book.

First, a quote from the intro: (page 5) "The blunt truth is that men still run the world.... While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, we have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry. This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect our world, women's voices aren't heard equally."

Here's what I'm thinking about after reading the introduction to Sandberg's book. It makes sense. How many times do women put their husband's needs above their own, trying to be sure that he's fulfilled -- willing to sacrifice a job that we enjoy to ensure our husband and families have what they want. In the past, no one questioned whether the woman would go where her husband led. If his company moved and offered him a chance to come along, the family went. So why should it be different for women? Now that women have a strong foothold in the job market, why would I set aside my own career goals and a profession that fulfills me in favor of my husband's job? Of course, each couple is different, each family is different, and our priorities are different. But the fact is that a discussion should take place when these choices come up, and the wife's career possibilities should not take a back seat to the husband's unless there is a good reason for it to do so. 

So yes, I agree with Sandberg. Women should "lean in" and enjoy the fruits of their labors and know that we have earned it, and not automatically take a back seat to the desires of our partners. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Sandberg's book. I'm hoping for guidance on how to embrace women's new roles, be successful at my career, and maybe not be a "dinner on the table" every night stay-at-home mom. Since I embarked on my career with the State Department, I have had this internal struggle, wanting to be both the perfect mom and a great Foreign Service Officer. I'd love it if this book would give me some ideas on how to reconcile the two pieces of who I am.

Stayed tuned for more!