Recently, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, gave a presentation at my company. I got advanced notice that registration would open up at a certain date and time, so I marked it on my calendar a half-hour ahead. At the appointed time, I registered…and watched as the spots filled-up within a half hour. I had a conflict, but I figured I could work that out and be able to attend.
Now, I did not like everything I read in Ms. Sandberg’s book, Lean In, but I was on board for most of it (the main difference being political…which is to say that we don’t see eye-to-eye on how to fix problems that we both agree are real problems). During her talk, however, I came to think we were more closely aligned than not. This, simply because she cited Norway where the law dictates the percent of women in congress and in corporate boards…without much difference in public outcomes. Change is needed, in other words, but it must be grass roots to be effective.
She started off by asking us if we had ever told anyone that we wanted to be CEO of our (Fortune 5) company. No one stood up at first, then one, lone woman did. Not very impressive. I was thinking, well, in graduate business school I did tell people that I wanted to be COO…I’m more of a hands-on person, so CEO was not as interesting to me as being chief operating officer. Then she asked the men (a minority at this assembly) if they were ever told in their career that they were too aggressive. Two men raised their hands. Then she asked this of the women and almost all of us raised our hands.
The assembly went on in the same vein. There are many statistics to show that women are not taken seriously from the get go…by their parents, their teachers, and their co-workers. She had much advice as to how we could change things. She has resources available to help us help ourselves. I was inspired and have challenged myself to create a “lean-in-circle movement” in my own work environment. No, not just a lean-in circle for myself, but a movement by which many circles are created and many people, both men and women are enriched.
At the end of the assembly, she asked us to think of something, not being CEO of our company, but rather being CEO of our own dreams. She asked us to stand up if we were willing to speak up for our own, personal ambitions. I leapt to my feet, feeling auditorium chair hit me in the back of my thighs as I did. Then I stood there, feeling very vulnerable, all of a sudden, as time ticked on very slowly. Finally someone else stood up, then another, and finally most of the auditorium stood. I glanced at the few women still sitting and felt a fury at them. Why did they come to this event and take up seats that others with true ambition could have benefited from?
I left the assembly in a contemplative state…I thought hard about how I could make a difference. I feel a lot (not a bit) disheartened about my own ability to get ahead. Age discrimination is rampant and unnoticeable. But, if I can look past that, past my own situation, I see many opportunities to enrich the next generations.
Find the Joy in the Journey!