I haven't watched much TED in a while. I blame it on inspiration overload. Too many exceptional people with exceptional aggravations pounding at pulpits.TEDWomen may bring me back, though - the talks I've seen so far are a lot more practical, filled with insight and action.
My friend Jude actually sent me my first TEDWomen talk. It's Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg exploring why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions. You've seen these numbers - Of 190 Heads of State around the world, only 9 are women. In the corporate world only 15% of the top leadership positions are held by women. (Those numbers haven't moved since 2002.) There are more examples - all that either suggest that women drop out or don't have access.
Sandberg didn't want to talk about the problem, though. Instead she focused on the practical ways to change it. What should we focus on as individuals? What messages do we share with the women who work with and for us? What do we tell our daughters?
And, before I get to her advice. I want to talk about her "but": What do we tell our collegues and daughters in a world where there will be sacrifices they have to make for their successes that their brothers will not?
One example of that sacrifice is reputation. The data clearly shows that success and like-ability are positivity correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. Sandbeg pointed to a case created Professor Frank Flynn at Columbia Business School known as The Heidi/Howard Roizen Study.
Flynn had Heidi Roizen, a powerful entreprenuer and venture capitalist, speak to his organizational behavior class in previous semesters. She spoke about networking, her business successes and the challenges of being a woman in Silicon Valley. One semester, he distributed two versions of her bio to the class. Half got Heidi's real background and half got that same bio with one word changed: Heidi became Howard.
Before the lecture, Flynn had students go online and rate their impressions of "Roizen" on several dimensions. The results showed that students were much harsher on Heidi than on Howard across the board. Although they thought she was just as competent and effective as Howard, they didn't like her, they wouldn't hire her, and they wouldn't want to work with her. They disliked Heidi's aggressive personality and rewarded Howard's entreprenuerial one. The more assertive they thought Heidi was, the more harshly they judged her (but the same was not true for those who rated Howard)
(Jump to minute 7:27 if you want to hear Sandberg talk about this story)
That's a powerful caveat. And surely one of the reasons women drop out.
But if you don't - here is Sandberg's advice: practical steps for women to get ahead in the workplace (serious highlights of things I'm not doing well in my own career, by the way). It's followed by my own ideas about what we can do together to get rid of a little bit of that "but" (which is really what all new years resolutions are about anyway, right?)
- Sit at the table. Don't sit on the sidelines
That means doing things that are really hard for women - like owning our successes (instead of sharing them with everyone who helped us along the way); negotiating for our salaries and promotions (50% of men negotiate for their first salary; 7% of women do - that's a cause of the salary gap right there); and driving our careers forward
- Make your partner a real partner
Women with a significant other and children do 2x the housework and 3x the childcare as their partners. In households where partners evenly split the workload, divorce rates are lower and, um, sexual satisfaction is higher
- Don't leave before you leave
If you're planning to take time off of your career to have a child, don't leave before you leave. Keep going full speed ahead until you get there. Too many women take their foot off the gas years in advance (while the men keep moving ahead)
That all sounds great. Except the more of it women do, apparently the worse they're seen. So, here's my idea for our shared resolution (because if women support each other more, the rest will come):
- Check your gut reactions: When you think something negative or dismissive about a female colleague, take a minute to consider why. If the same statement were made or action taken by a male collegue, would you feel the same way? These gender issues are deep and cultural and tough to change - but we can be more aware of how they effect us as individuals. (Is she really being a bitch when he would just be assertive? Is she a snob where he would be considered a professional? Maybe. But, maybe not.)
- Recognize success from your female colleagues out loud: Men naturally claim their accomplishments. The data shows that men tend to overestimate their performance while women underestimate theirs. Let's dial it up a little bit. Congratulate each other in open court. Mean it. And, don't shrug it off when the compliment is coming to you.
- Make soft skills part of your career and network development: Dig up articles about negotiating for salary or running a presentation or sharing constructive criticism. Practice what you learn. And, pass it on to your colleagues and friends.
- Ask for something you want (and have been waiting for someone to offer): Just doing good work often isn't enough. We need to get good at career planning and setting a path and asking for that next promotion. People aren't waiting anxiously to help you up the next step - they're looking to see if you'll take it.
We're likely among the last generations to live in a world run so decisively by men. Wouldn't it be great if we enjoyed some of that equity and opportunity instead of simply being on the slightly wrong side of history. Wouldn't it be great if there was no "but" in wanting to succeed?