Thirty years after women have become 50% of the academic population in the United States, men still occupy the vast majority of leadership positions, both in public and private sectors. That means the feminist voices are still not being heard in an egalitarian manner regarding decisions that affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, the most powerful woman on Facebook and one of the 50 most powerful woman in the world according to Forbes magazine, explores the main motives by which this distortion still occurs and offers practical tips for women who want to use their potential to conquer the world.
We live in a very interesting moment in which women have the highest level of expression in history, mostly thanks to the feminist movements of the 60s and 70s. On the other hand, because it seems like the fight for equality has been won, progress has been taking place, and things have been evolving, however at a low pace. Inequality of genders still exists in various spheres of society, mainly when it comes to career and work. In 2010, in the United States, a female worker would make 77 cents for each dollar received by a colleague of the male sex. This inequality is a global problem, and it occurs in the whole world, not only in the United States. In Europe, for example, the difference is a little less, 84 cents for each dollar, but it still shows a high level of inequality.
The financial point is more obvious and proves that there is still much to be conquered, but we need to go beyond it. In the workplace, for example, Sheryl mentions that various studies show the performance of women is also unjustly evaluated. Do you know what is most curious? It is that discrimination happens both by men and women. Sheryl mentions, as an example, a study whose objective was to ask participants to evaluate the performance and the growth potential of workers who had identical performances. In this study, both men and women evaluated women in a worse manner than their colleagues of the opposite sex. You should be asking yourself, "this should only happen with ignorant people, with the poorly educated and the misogynists, right? Most people think that, if people evaluators were well informed and educated, the result would be fair, but that is not true. In the study, furthermore, the more the person claimed to be impartial and not discriminate the opposite sex, the bigger the discrepancy of the evaluation between the sexes, always benefiting the individual of the male sex.
Many times, we think that a masculine world discriminates women, but in reality, women also sabotage themselves. Both sexes have a perception of less value of the female sex, and we need to be attentive to these matters since this valid sexism exists and affects our lives. This hidden inequality also exists in the family environment and in relationships, where many times you expect the woman stalls her career to take care of the children. A study has asked the question, "Do you expect your husband/wife to abandon their career to raise your children?". The results were emblematic. 46% of men expected their wife to abandon their career to take care of the children, while only 5% of the women expected that from their husbands. Women still face direct sexual harassment and discrimination. Sheryl affirms, "We should be thankful to the women who fought to change this before us, for the rights that we now have, but there is still much to be done.
Inequality of gender is still more evident in the leadership positions. In the United States, only 4% of the CEOs of the 500 largest companies are women. These numbers exceed even more because, in the academic world, women, on average, perform better than men, totaling 60% of master's degrees in the United States. How does this multitude of professional and capable women not make it to leadership positions? That is the question Sheryl explains: several factors lead to this, but we are responsible for the main one: lack of ambition for leadership. Men are more ambitious to become leaders than women, says Sheryl. The reason for this is that gender stereotypes also act in veiled sexism. Society does not expect women to prioritize their career or be ambitious, and it labels those who do it like bossy, among other things. These stereotypes are reinforced throughout life for the whole society, from childhood, ultimately limiting the perspectives of each gender. While most men assume they can have successful working lives and achieve leadership positions, there is pressure on women to choose between caring for family or career. This society mental model makes many women feel responsible for staying at home and caring for the family and putting their careers aside. Often, they start their careers, get a job, but later drop out to take care of their children and stay home. That explains how the lack of ambition for leadership causes men to remain in power.
With all the facts pointed out by Sheryl and our day to day reality, it is clear that there is gender inequality. And so, it is necessary that the subject is increasingly addressed so that this inequality is reduced. It is not a matter of demanding special treatment for women, but rather of engaging people in the cause and seeking solutions. When the conversation occurs, more women are inspired to lead change and more men who understand the problem want to become part of the solution to this inequality. Getting people to know and understand the problem helps us channel changes, albeit small ones, day in and day out. Even if you can not change the world, you can change your home, your business, and even your street. For example, knowing that there are fewer women in leadership positions can encourage a manager to select more candidates for the next promotion of the company.
Another important and surprising point is that women often do not support each other, and to achieve a less inequitable scenario, we must change that. An example: if a woman manages to reach a leadership position in a mostly male company, she begins to feel threatened by other women and thus hinder their promotions. That is a type of behavior that reinforces the current status of inequality. Another example: mothers who stay at home and do not have jobs constantly emotionally discourage working mothers, leaving them insecure about their careers. The first Navy woman to be assigned to a submarine was respected by the male sailors, but the sailors' wives did not respect her and envied her. Women cannot be divided if they want to achieve equality and the equality agenda needs to be discussed more often. According to a Harvard study, egalitarian environments increase the satisfaction of all involved, not just women.
Lack of confidence is an obstacle that greatly disturbs women. Even the most competent women can feel the so-called impostor syndrome and feel that their skills are not enough for success. Sheryl herself shares in her book that she has gone through this insecurity. Men, on the other hand, are much less affected by this lack of self-confidence. Several studies prove that while women tend to underestimate their abilities, men tend to overestimate their abilities and look better than they really are. Another important point is that men like to attribute their success to their abilities and their failures to external factors, while the women adopt the opposite stance. They attribute their successes to external factors and blame themselves for their failures. These perceptual distortions make women insecure causing them to sabotage themselves in job interviews and in the day-to-day.
You must have the self-confidence to present yourself and communicate according to your real value. A woman should never give up career opportunities because she feels disqualified. You must take the initiative and seize interesting opportunities, even if you consider yourself an impostor. The easiest way to develop self-confidence is to train. Act as if you were more confident. Behave as if you are more confident. That makes you develop your confidence and assimilates these behaviors. If you lead many women and you know they have a lower level of confidence, it can also inspire you to encourage them and support their careers. The traditional way of thinking about careers in which the person enters as a trainee in a large company and dozens of years later become a director or vice president no longer works. Career ceased to be a climb and have become a journey of experimentation. It is not necessary to have an exact goal but to try different routes to find out which one will lead you in the right direction. Having this freedom helps you create opportunities, but you also need short- and long-term dreams.
Sheryl, for example, says her long-term dream was to have a job that meant a lot to people and used that idea as a master line to make her choices. For short-term goals, you need to include goals and learning for constant evolution. Another important point to plan your career is to see if the environment you are in gives you the potential for growth. She was afraid when Larry Page offered her a job at the then unknown Google. He told her the following: "If they offer you a seat on a rocket, you do not ask what the fate is, you just take off."
Stereotypes do exist and still affect the way our brain processes information. Even today, society expects men to be decisive and direct and women sensitive. A successful woman breaks with her gender stereotype, and this causes her to face unnecessary resistance from society. Competent and ambitious men are praised while these women are described pejoratively. To further complicate things, trying to fit into an expected gender role can also limit a woman's career. To overcome gender biases, women also need to adopt a negotiating stance, always emphasizing their skills, citing wage indicators and using endorsements from their superiors in organizations.
When Sheryl was talking to Mark Zuckerberg about accepting a Facebook proposal, she was inclined to accept the first offer she received. Her husband suggested she make a counter-proposal and she did. In the end, she closed a much more lucrative proposal. It is also proven by studies that to develop their careers, women must appear to be "appropriately feminine," that is, pleasant, charismatic, and sensitive. That means crossing a high-pitched minefield. It is a paradox that needs to fit into the traditional model of society to bring about change. After all, with more and more women leading, this kind of behavior will be more necessary in the future. Sheryl says she always remembers the first feedback received on a Facebook rating by Mark Zuckerberg. "If you please, everyone, you're not making enough progress."
Honest and transparent communication is essential to developing a promising career. It strengthens relationships, allows for challenging unsubstantiated decisions, and helps tackle complicated issues. Many women are afraid to talk about what they think about work, thinking that it causes them to be denied or criticized. It is the leader's role to encourage authenticity by asking for feedback and suggestions, as well as publicly thanking those who have given their opinions and cared about an issue. Efficient communication in any environment means finding the balance between authenticity and consideration for other's feelings. Sheryl suggests that you be politely honest, not brutally honest. There is no absolute truth, so to communicate effectively, you must first try to see things as the other. A good phrase to put yourself in the other's position would be: "I understood that you are concerned about this because you feel ..." Another tip of communication is to use the "I" to show your opinions and disagreements: "I think that we should do this another way ... ", and never" You're wrong.”
Having a mentor is a good tool for developing your career. Do you know that director who advises you and endorses your work? Mentors like these are essential in any professional's career, regardless of their gender. However, women are more difficult to find mentors and often they are concerned that society misinterprets the professional relationship. Research shows that mentors choose their mentors based on their future potential. Therefore, approaching an overweening mentor is not exactly a good idea. Asking for mentoring is not a good idea. An amazing performance can definitely catch the eye of a potential mentor, but another equally powerful approach is to approach with well-prepared, specific questions on a subject, with good timing, for an ongoing relationship. Mentoring is a reciprocal relationship in which the mentor also gains useful information as well as the pride of seeing the learner grow. Your mentor's time and experience are valuable, so do not use your moments to complain or just collect information without giving something back.
Our society teaches women, from a young age, that one day they will have to choose between having a successful career or being a good mother. This pattern has a devastating side effect: women often hurt their own careers preemptively to make room for this balance. Imagine you have a great job offer. As you plan to start a family in a few years, you will not accept the opportunity or wait, after all, children will demand time. Choices such as this one make it possible for the mother to be in a much worse professional position until the birth of her first child than if she had accepted the opportunities that appeared to her. This kind of choice leads to stagnation. Therefore, never make decisions about this type of opportunity using the mental model used by society. Forget the stereotype. If you have to make choices regarding things like your career and looking after children, your professional results will be hampered. And after maternity leave, your career may be so impaired that you choose to leave it. Balancing your work and family is important, but letting opportunities slip for that reason can sacrifice your career. Before having your children and your maternity leave is the best time to speed up and work harder. Do not break early, accelerate more.
You will not be able to do everything. Women may have a greater concern and feel that they are leaving things “on hold”, but it is important to have balance and focus. Even if you are an executive at a large company, you need to set boundaries and work within them. There is pressure on mothers to spend more time with their children, and this can create a sense of guilt in mothers who have a job. Knowing how to manage this guilt is just as important as managing your time, so you need to know how to focus on the things you are actually doing and not what you have failed to do. Prioritize and focus on what is most important. Find time to go to your children's school, but do not worry about making the beds to perfection. Find solutions that are sustainable in the long run, both at home and at work. There is no recipe for balancing a meaningful personal life and a career in success, find out what works for you. Make it happen! If we do, the next wave may be the last one, and in the future, we will not have women leaders. We will have only leaders.
More than ever, the issue of gender equality needs attention. It is necessary to talk about it and work day by day to achieve equality. If you want to reconcile your career, family and personal life, you will need to understand how veiled sexism works and what society expects of you. From this, it is possible to break with the pre-established models and start to change your lives and also society as a whole.
12min tip: How about checking a timeline of women's achievements from the earliest days to the present day?
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