Everywhere you look gender and race are hot button issues. For those of us that thought we had resolved these issues decades ago, we’re learning that there’s still a long way to go, especially for women in the workplace. A few years ago, I quoted a few top women in their fields about their attitudes and advice for women and success. And surprisingly, it resonates a little differently in today’s climate.
Is there still a glass ceiling? Can women rise to the top? Can women in the workplace expect and demand equal working conditions?
Yes, if you lean in.
This idea is the foundation of Sheryl Sandberg’s first book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. As COO of Facebook, Sandberg is in a challenging role where she manages their sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy, and communications. And she manages this massive role while still caring for her two young children.
Several years ago, she gave a talk about why we have too few women leaders. She talked, as have many great women leaders, about how women are often in the unique position of having to choose between professional success and personal fulfillment.
Sandberg believes that women often underestimate themselves and their ability to balance their personal and professional lives. As a result, many of these women start leaning back. Stepping back. Putting their ambition on hold assuming that it’s too difficult to do it all.
That’s exactly why Sandberg not only wrote her book but also created Lean In , a non-profit organization committed to offering women the encouragement and support to achieve their goals.
Good for her. Good for the organization that showcases top women leaders in industries across the country. And good for the idea of women empowering women. I love it all.
But it doesn’t really suit me.
Her book came out almost a year ago. So why the discussion now? Because it’s still a hot debate among many of my women friends who are trying to professionally redefine what a successful career looks like.
Most recently, I was following a Facebook discussion around an article by Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, who says ‘leaning in’ isn’t the answer. Unlike Sandberg, she doesn’t believe that women have to make their mark by competing in a male dominated world. She thinks women should be empowered to create their own world in the workplace and that women shouldn’t have to sacrifice to fit into the traditional work mold. Instead, women should strive to adapt their workplaces to accommodate their life choices. Parsons argues that “what needs to change is how and when women work.”
While I’ve been fortunate enough to work in many small business and corporate environments that are accommodating to the special demands on a woman trying to maintain a professional and personal life, I can see this as a double-edged sword. Do we want to be treated equally or do we want special treatment?
I would argue that there is yet another untapped model for professional success for working women. And it comes from Tina Fey.
A few months ago, I read her book, Bossypants, fully expecting to not be impressed. I like Tina Fey. I just didn’t expect it to be much more than light-hearted fluff from a Hollywood type. Instead, I found her to be funny, thoughtful, reflective, and as tough as Sheryl Sandberg and Sabrina Parsons.
In one part of the book, she’s relays a time where the cast was in the writers’ room of Saturday Night Live waiting for the Wednesday readthrough to start. She watches from the background as Amy Poehler makes a vulgar joke to Seth Meyers. Jimmy Fallon mockingly acts upset at her unladylike behavior saying, “Stop it! I don’t like it!”
I don’t f*cking care if you like it.
She was there to do what she wanted to do and didn’t care if it fit into any sort of mold.
So is the lesson to be learned from Tina Fey or Amy Poehler? Tina is the one that watched. Tina is the one that saw this as a metaphor for women in the workplace. And Tina extrapolated those words into a quote that rules my professional day-to-day:
“So, my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.”
― Tina Fey, Bossypants
As for leaning in? I’ll lean in to women like Amy and Tina. And I don’t f*cking care if you like it.