This morning, I will say it: I am exhausted with all of the Lean In huffing and puffing. In my newsfeed this morning, I found this article on the Wall Street Journal. The book is authored by Facebook’s COO and as the article this morning states, the book’s premise is:
We have educated a generation of women well, but too few make it to the top rungs. That’s partly because of societal barriers and subtle biases remain, partly because of women’s behavior.
Interviews with Sandberg have yielded such quote gems as ““I want every little girl who [is told] they’re bossy to be told instead, ‘You have leadership skills.’” (60 Minutes).
And this morning, I am exhausted. Spent. And I’m going to run a few things out over the wires. Like ‘em or agree with them? I don’t much care. What I do care about, however, is that it’s time for the conversation to shift away from gender and to lean towards talent. I’m done with my vagina being a part of conversations it’s never pursued.
- There is a difference between being bossy and having leadership potential. Bossy people — of either gender — are not good leaders. Period. As one of my friends stated on Facebook — she would call her daughter out for being bossy and bitchy in a heartbeat. Plus 83 from me should I be blessed enough to ever have a daughter. Lord knows, my mom called me out plenty for being bossy and bitchy. (Thank you, mom.)
- I was completely unaware that someone had, at some time, established quotas on how many female CEOs there should be in the Fortune 500. Quit fucking saying there aren’t enough — your data set is broken. How about we focus on the best candidate, instead of chromosomes, to lead a company? And why is being a CEO of a Fortune-rated company the bar? I know plenty of female CEOs running their own ships. Running a publicly traded company isn’t everyone’s — male or female — version of success.
- Quit telling women that they’re making the wrong decisions when it comes to having children and having a career. Your womb ain’t mine, your children ain’t mine, and neither of us lives the other’s life. Unless their decision that you perceive as “wrong” fucks up YOUR life and those YOU love in some way, how about you shut the hell up and use your magical version of Google Maps to plot your own mystical course through life? Life isn’t a board game filled with blue and pink colored pegs that move around a car by the roll of the dice. Quit pretending it is.
If you’re wondering what inspired this rant, it’s:
- lack of sleep
- an inability to look at my vagina and view it as a reason that I’m doing something “incorrectly” in my life
- the exhaustion with some sort of subtext that we’re all subject to The Good Old Boys Club
- and the belief that I’m somehow not reaching my potential as a human being because I’m not allowing myself to be successful.
I’ll never discount the women who have come before me and blazed paths in much need of blazing. But don’t ever discount my life, my achievements, and what I consider to be “success” because I haven’t ticked off a to-do on a list I never authored.
I yearn for a family — that’s never been a secret with my readers. I have plenty of girlfriends who never want children. Neither choice — to parent or not — detracts from our respective professional potentials. It all has to do with whose definition of success we’re abiding. Sheryl’s definition of success certainly isn’t mine and I don’t delude myself into thinking mine is anywhere near hers.
But each day, I wake up to life I love, filled with people I love. That — to me — is success. It has no gender bias, it requires no bestselling book. It simply requires that I am willing to face tough decisions and make unpopular decisions day after bloody day. That is work I am willing to do.
Let me tell you what success has looked like for me at various points in my life:
- Taking a shower anytime during the 6 months after the man I love died.
- Spending 24 hours with my father.
- Seeing my parents in the same room after 17 years.
- Realizing that my sister was happy.
- Getting anything done the day after my dog had raging diarrhea at 3AM, which meant I was up cleaning a sick dog and a very, very messy apartment when I’d only gone to sleep 3 hours prior.
- Narrowly missing 6 accidents and making it home alive while driving through a blizzard and snowpacked roads in a Mini Cooper.
- Seeing money in my bank account.
- Getting through the day.
So if your version of success is different and you choose to judge mine based on the chromosomes I was handed and how I’ve used my ovaries, uterus, and a sperm donation — believe what you will and go fuck yourself. I’ll be over here, making things happen.
…in the life I love, helping people become the next better version of themselves.
…for the people I love, who are my eternal front stabbers and the one who help me grow.
…and doing what I love, which is my daily stepping stone to becoming the next better version of myself.
Becoming better and honoring myself and those I love — I can’t think of a more noble pursuit. Maybe Sandberg lives her version of that life every day. I’ll never know.
But lady — don’t you dare think you’ve got the right to say I haven’t done amazing things in my 40 years. The fact that I’m alive today, at 40, typing this?
Huge. Fucking. Success.
PS: This is full admission that I have not read the book. And frankly, nor will I. I’m over that chatter and reporting on the book and how it’s for “all women”. To hell with that.
Quit mixing up feeling sorry for youself and women's career possibilities. I can with 100% honestly assure you that there are plenty of barriers for us women wanting to reach higher postions in our careers. If you don't want that for yourself, it is absolutely fine - noone forces you! - but PLEASE stop now making it even worse for the rest of us! We have lots and lots of men against us - we women, too??!!
Reemeber what Madeleine Albright said. I agree!
I'm tired of people thinking I'm a brand for women because I'm a woman - 40% of my audience is talented, lovely, and funny men. Thank God for ALL of my peeps.
Sheryl's message puts us all ten steps backwards. I agree 100% with your article, Erika. Keep the gender out of it. Get into action. Make a difference. Period.
Love 'em ALL UP!
The Irreverent Sales Girl
Ok, so all the talk around the book has bored me (in the comments) and what I want to add my voice to - is that I loved your personal definitions of success Erika. They actually kinda sprung up on me (like my 14 year old who loves hiding in random corners to give me a 'fright') ... because they are such common and human experiences.
At one time my definition of success with 3 daughters under 5 was to have a shower by the time my husband got home.
I have 3 sisters and 2 brothers and when I see any of them 'happy' (as in they genuinely seem to be lit up), it adds to my joy.
... I could go on... I connected with all your experiences. Flip - at one stage going to the toilet without someone busting in on me, was my triumph (honestly - when we moved from our boxed in, 1 toilet home into a 3 story home with 3 toilets and our children couldn't find me .. I cried tears of joy).
Anyway - here's to all our successes (whether in the boardroom, toilet or whereever)!
Erika your daughter will be one lucky, lucky girl! It's about people applying their skills, knowledge and effort to produce results regardless of their gender. If I put my feet on the floor in the morning, I feel it's the least I can do to follow up as best I possibly can on the effort it took to put them there.
I have neither read the book, or the WSJ article, but throughout the first half of your post, up until I got to where you said it, this is exactly what I was thinking: "And why is being a CEO of a Fortune-rated company the bar?"
I don't imagine that there are a lot of social workers, teachers, nurses, writers, or graphic designers spending their days wishing they could be CEOs at a fortune 500 company. Frankly, I'd be much more likely to look up to and value people doing good work in any of the listed professions, and a good deal others, more than someone whose job is all about making more money for businesses and people that already have plenty.
Different people have different values. Like most, I have a tendency to wish more people shared mine, but try to recognize the world is richer due to our differences.
For nearly 20 years, I've had a sign I made above my desk with Ralph Waldo Emerson's definition of success (here: http://blog.gaiam.com/quotes/authors/ralph-waldo-emerson/61545). I look at it every time I hear someone say "but you could have been..." - even if (especially if!) the voice is just inside my head.
There's nothing wrong with the real message of Sandberg's book, that women should be judged by the same criteria as men and that women still have to fight in many ways to get and hold that. The problem, as you have so realistically pointed out, is that the takeaway from interviews, reviews, and puff pieces, is that a woman must be a bitch in high heels to "succeed". Two problems, really. One, that's not the core message of the book, and two, that the definition of success id the same for all - get to the top.
Personally, if I find myself at the top, I'll be wondering what I did wrong & how the hell to I climb down from the summit without breaking a leg or falling onto rocks. I'm happiest and most successful when I'm doing what I like, not when I'm playing corporate games. I got out of that life!
I was raised by a single mother. That's why I agree with Erika. It's not bias, it's experience and love.
Just leaving a comment after a day full of meetings, thanking everyone for joining this conversation. I never cease to be amazed and inspired by the diversity of thought that comes through this community -- thanks for making it a wonderful place and for keeping the trolling to zilch. Whether you agree or differ, you do it all with respect. Above anything, this makes me smile.
There is no amount of writing you could do that would convince me that "success" for anyone is having to look at Mark Zuckerberg every morning. None.
I've raised two kidlets into amazing, brave, loving, compassionate, brilliant adults who are blazing their paths (and who have the chutzpah and the solid support to be who THEY want to be. One has a penis, the other does not). I've failed brilliantly, won a few, redefined prosperity to fit MY sensibility and I love and am loved in this life beyond my capacity to express. Every year of my half a century in this life, I have known what 'success' really means.
Darlin', you rock. ~peace xox
Yep I love ya, I love ya for making me breathe a massive sigh of relief about being different everytime I read your blog, and yes I am different - no, I don't think that means anyone else isn't. I don't subscribe to any pre-conceived bullshit, I've done my own thing for richer or poorer (mostly the latter, due to my own bad feelings about not doing things I was 'supposed' to) my whole life and it's only now Im officially wholeheartedly and happily rejecting all the crap and just getting my shit done. I'm 35. I'm kicking ass now, even if my bank account is yet to reflect it, I'm happy. The reason is that I agree and live by everything you've written about in this post, easy peasy, huh? :)
I LOVE YOU! This is everything I've been wanting to say, but because I CHOSE to be pregnant for the last 8 months and give birth to two amazing babies last week, I haven't had time. I hope both my son and daughter will choose to pursue their life dreams based on their passions and not their genders and won't be judged by anyone for those choices. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words so eloquently.
Thank you for putting this into words. When I first heard her book and saw an interview, I caught the bit about 'more women CEOs'...tell me exactly WHY I should want to be CEO of a large corporation? That is her definition of success, some women may have the same definition of success, but it certainly is not mine.
Being loyal to a company is your definition of success? Her job at Facebook could end at the decision of one person - doesn't sound like to success to me.
A huge part Sandberg's point is that the best person for the job doesn't always get the job, especially if they're a woman, that men are promoted based on potential whereas women are promoted based on past accomplishment, and this despite woman being comparably educated. She also notes that everyone's definition of success is different, but this doesn't account for the disparity between men and women taking on leadership roles. It seems like the vast majority of people who post a negative review of this book or the ideas therein haven't read the book, which detracts from your rhetoric, as well as everyone else who flamed this book without reading it. You're only contributing the misinformation being spewed about this book from both the pro and anti-lean in sides.
I agree that we should hire the best fit for the job, and get over it. This is a fantastic post!
There is no way in hell that bossy = leadership of any sort. Leaders are not bossy managers are.
Sandberg's book (which you did not read) discusses the Heidi/Howard study, where Harvard students were asked to rate their impressions of a successful entrepreneur. When the name was changed to Howard, students reacted favorably to the entrepreneur's accomplishments, but when it was Heidi, they disliked her "aggressive personality." Sandberg also cites other studies that both men and women are harsher toward successful women. I attribute a lot of the Sandberg backlash to this phenomenon -- she is not "discounting your life" by talking about her own career path. Sandberg in NO WAY suggests that all women should be Fortune 500 CEOs or that is the only way to be considered "successful" -- your post misses the entire point of her book, which is to consider WHY there aren't more female leaders and what can both women and men can do about it. Sadly, society is not "focusing on the best candidate" -- you are ignoring centuries of patriarchal thinking. Of course, not every woman (or man) wants to run a Fortune 500 company or be a leader, and that's fine, and Sandberg would agree that's GREAT, but a lot of women DO (and maybe that's why they read the book).
I'm sorry, but if you haven't read the book, I just wonder how you can challenge what you think "her viewpoint" is. You literally haven't read it? Just my two cents, but some of the things you said in here, ideas which you ascribed to sheryl sandberg--they're actually not things she believes or says at all. Like...at all. It sounds to me like what your problem is with is with the *discussion* around the book--which is fine--but again, a lot of the things you think Sheryl Sandberg "doesn't support"--"Quit telling women that they’re making the wrong decisions when it comes to having children and having a career, for example"-- lord almighty, you really missed the boat there. She does not say that, even remotely, she says in fact the complete opposite. Anywho, I hope you do read it, though I suspect your mind is already made up--wish you did that after hearing her side of things.
I LOVE you Erika, and I hear your frustration. But I have to disagree. I think the conversation on gender needs to break wide open. Like crazy, crazy wide open. I love, love, love that we (men & women) don't all agree. That's a huge part of what she is saying in her book. No one woman should ever be expected to carry the voice of all women. But it's still happening. All the time. (Backlash against Marissa Mayer is a great example.) I think you might actually like the book b/c it's not about doing things wrong or that we all need to be CEOs. Not. At. All. There has been this huge movement to bash it by people who haven't read it. As an author myself, I feel that pain too. But all this said, you aren't really her audience. Because, once again, not all women have to speak for each other, to each other.
Agreed. Well said. I questioned that "bossy" quote the minute I first read it. But what I like is that you take a distanced view of her advice rather than joining the rest of the sheeple who just suck it up without reflecting on the advice vis-a-vis their lives and experience. Down with the echo chamber. Up with authentic thought and words. Good stuff, E.
i've also completely tired of the discussion, though for very different reasons. that said, i don't think that sandberg's (whose perspective i believe is myopic at best) intention was to say that every woman should want those things, but that, for those who do...blah, blah, blah, whatever she thinks about the barriers that stand in their way.
i hear you and agree 100% that we should all pursue our own paths and define what our own successes look like, and that none of us should be made to feel our choices are any less legitimate or laudable. BUT i don't think we can discount that for women who choose that big, corporate path, their vaginas do sometimes dictate how the majority men in charge treat them, whether intentionally or otherwise.
(p.s. - too many parents aren't willing to tell their kids their being bossy/whiny/assholes these days and the result is they send them out into the world for the rest of us to deal with...i have no problem telling a grow-up that she's being a bossy bitch!)
Erika, so happy you spoke up about this!! I recently read an article (http://www.inc.com/simona-covel/stop-selling-me-porn.html) with similar ideas, that speaks not just to Lean In, but to books the author labels as "career porn" that try to give women the recipe for their version of perceived success- Which, as you said, is exhausting and I am over it @Oh_Katie said it perfectly, "...my primary goal right now is finding a way to live my life that doesn't make my career the end-all be-all of my existence. We are going to be dead one day - I'd like to live a little bit before I get there..." I couldn't agree more. Thanks for this today!
Interesting. I disagree with a lot of the argument saying chromosomes don't have anything to do with success. Male privilege has all but guaranteed it is more difficult for women to succeed in positions of power. And technically, no, talent has nothing to do with xx or xy, but how we recognize and REWARD talent is.
As for the bossy thing--it's completely a gendered issue. Men who act bossy are not told they're bossy. In fact, the term bossy is almost exclusively used for women and girls. Sandberg's point is that little girls are told to be passive and overly polite. While I think that we should encourage boys to be more polite, too many little girls are told from the time they are tiny that their needs should come last. Boys get the opposite lesson.
As a half-time single mother of a daughter, I see every single day the signals my daughter gets from the world that encourage her to be more passive, to be less aggressive, and to not speak her mind. More and more women are becoming breadwinners, and yet our salaries are still less than men's overall. That fact has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with chromosomes.
There are many ways to live a fulfilled life and many ways to live a life that we hate. But we should have the freedom to explore what that means, and not be discouraged, from the time we're born, to aggressively pursue difficult careers that also pay well. Sandberg wasn't writing for everyone, and I don't think she claimed to be. If we want to dismantle Wall Street, that's another topic altogether. And I'm all for that.
Erika, what a good piece! I am 28 heading for 29 and here in South Africa, it's the same bullshit. I am tired of people detecting that what worked for them should work for other women. I am still to read Sandberg's book and one great thing I can say so far is that at least as Americans you have a lot of female role models to look up to. That being said, I think the world has forgotten the meaning of success and that it means different things to different people. I am a CEO of my start - up which turned 2 on the 1st of April; I pay myself way less than a lot of people younger than me earn, who are obviously employed by bigger agencies but that doesn't worry me because success means a completely different thing to me. Am just glad that there are women out there who are sick and tired of society dictating to us how we should be or live our lives. We are not all meant to have kids or be able to cook good meals - some of us are just more comfortable with work, flexibility and travel but because society has turned morals into values, the lines have been blurred so badly that all we live with is guilt because our internal values are different from what society has named the true expectations or morals of how one is supposed to live. Rock on Erika!
Kindergarten, Day 1
Teacher: How do you want it to be? As in your life.
Kids: (answer. words optional - sounds, gestures, and movement encouraged)
Great. Perfect. My job is to help you gain all the tools, resources and relationships you need to go and create it. Your job is to create it. Let's start, say, right now.
I haven't read the book either and probably won't, simply because I have plenty of other books to read that are a higher priority for me.
What struck me the most about this post is what success has looked like for you at various points in your life. I've only seen a little bit of media surrounding this book but it's all pushing the out-dated, ill advised view of what success is in our culture (and the tired gender argument).
This made me think of a recent situation I experienced when I went to my dentist (there is a point, promise). My dentist is around my age (42) and we were talking about our kids. My daughter is 16, same age as her son. We were chatting about college, etc. and I was sharing the heavy school load my daughter took this year (AP classes, etc.). and then stated that she wanted to go to the Culinary Academy in San Francisco after high school (she works PT at a local bakery and absolutely LOVES it).
My dentist's response? "Oh, she doesn't want to just do that with her grades/academics..."
WTF? The truth is it didn't bother me at all, I just felt sorry for her son.
I don't care WHAT my kids want to do as long as they follow their hearts and are good people. My 12 yr. old son is not into sports but he creates some of the most amazing movie props (mainly weapons.. haha) out of paper mache, PVC pipe, paint and hot glue but he still feels pressure because he's not an athlete. I will do whatever it takes to support them pursuing their dreams.
And for what it's worth Erika, you've made a huge impact in my life which certainly affects my kids lives.
Thank you Jaysus! As a 47 year old woman who took time out about 15 years ago to have kids, I say fuck you to all the people that told me "Oh don't stay at home, you'll screw up your career". But you know what? They were right. I fought like a bitch just to get receptionist jobs when I had a degree in Broadcasting. Then my ex took off and I had to raise all 3 kids alone, my goal was to get the most flexible job not the most lucrative one. Again more people telling me I'm an idiot.
But again, you know what? I have a son who's a Freshman at NYU now, and 2 daughters at a top private HS who are A students and looking at great colleges. So fuck you... I'd rather raise my offspring right than worry if I'll round out the quota of CEOs. Oh but BTW, can you all buy my upcoming book so I can keep those kids in college? Thanks. :)
Thank you! Seriously...words cannot express how thankful I am you were able to articulate this better than I ever could.
Oh my God! I feel so relieved reading your article. I haven't read her book either but I saw her interview on Oprah. I have to admit that I was feeling a bit of a failure... I wonder if her perspective is not something like "more women should play the men's game" whereas people like us are like "no, let's invent a new game, that is better and more fun instead".... Thanks Erika...
First of all, Erika, I am a huge fan of yours. I admire what you are doing in the world and have found your advice SUPER inspirational.
I must confess that I'm feeling a bit defensive of miss Sandberg. I'm confused about why we're attacking Sheryl for telling women what to do with their lives, because I had the opposite impression from her speech for the Levo league (which I watched this morning).
In her speech, she makes a point to say that it's not about being a CEO. It's about doing that thing that you want to do and not holding yourself back because of a lack of confidence. You don't have to want to be a CEO. Her example is being a CEO because that's her path. She makes a point to encourage the audience to envision their own dream.
Sheryl talks about how she started working for younger people and everyone else told her she was crazy. She talks about not saying "no" to your profession because you're afraid that in 10 years you'll want kids and then what will you do? She talks about finding your passion and moving horizontally rather than vertically up the ladder if it's going to help you to do what you do best in the world.
Perhaps we got different impressions from Sheryl's work, but I am happy to support a woman who is inspiring others in being more confident and going after what they want most in life despite the fear. I'm in support of Sheryl, you, and all the other women and men in the world!
Also, I hope that everyone reading this article and commenting will take the time to read the book for themselves before jumping to negative, inflamed opinions of what Sheryl Sandberg stands for. (Though, if that's what you think after you read, go for it!)
Lots of love.
Critiquing a book without having read it is like writing a food review for a dish you've never tasted. It's based on what you imagine the thing to be rather than the thing itself.
You haven't lost this female reader. I agree with what you have to say... and, at age 58 I've run up against the gender crap most of my life. Starting with my mother pushing the marriage/beauty point to people making assumptions based on my gender and now my age. In reality we still have gender inequities but I'm not sure that continuing to belabor the point in the way Sandburg does is helping.
I like your approach, the understanding that each of us sets our own goals and aspirations, not as women or men, but as individuals. Raising a child may be the most powerful thing one woman wants to do, being President for another. It's all equally important.
Thanks for this solid post. I'm over the "Lean In" hype for many of the precise arguments that you make. I'm also over it because Sandberg publishes a book about feminism in 2013 and focuses only on married, working mothers. She doesn't include lesbian, single, women who have chosen to not have a family, etc. Very narrow view of the world. Also, she seems to want to tell a story that if women have a problem with sexism in the workplace, they have the tools to solve it themselves. Just work harder and sit at the table and everything will work out. Bullshit.
You OBVIOUSLY haven't read the book because your critique is way off base. You come across as credible as a movie critic that hasn't see the movie, but wrote an opinion anyway. Open your mind and read the book. Sheryl speaks ADMIRABLY about women who aren't doing paid work. She NEVER criticized you nor said that you "haven't done amazing things" - why you do think you have the right to criticize her? Thou protest too much.
2) Don't curtail your career aspirations in anticipation of having children. I made chocolate chip cookies this morning and did a quick mop on my floor to clean up the kool aid spills. I am told I make the best kool aid but actually I think thats based on quantity not quality! This was before setting at my desk at home this morning to work on my kick ass business I love and adore and created and is mine! Although I am truly blessed to be so successful, I wrote last summer that my dream was to fill my house full of foster boys. This morning I had 3 unofficial foster boys appreciating those cookies! A dream come true! I've sat at the board table and gladly gave that up years ago to pursue my own dreams on my own time! TYG!
Thank you. On so many levels, in so many ways, thank you. I'm sorry this isn't more articulate, or that I can't point out a particular part of this that I specifically needed to hear. I think I needed it all. So, just...thank you.
I think it's important to point out that much of this comes from the perception that a woman who makes it this far - whether it's in business or whatever arena we're discussing - is that they've somehow overachieved. Remember all the attention Marissa Mayer got when she became the CEO of Yahoo!? Would this story really have been all that had they hired a man?
It's true that there are relatively few top level positions, but the premise that they need to be filled by men is fading. Sooner or later, it will be hardly noticeable.
Yes, this. All of it. Thank you, thank you! How does anyone get to tell us who to be or how to get there?
I stopped out, had kids, and now I work for people far younger than I am. That doesn't make me "less" of anything. I thought that was the whole point of the women's movement? I thought what they were telling me, way back in the 70's, was that I had a choice. I made my choice, and I'm happy I had the opportunity. Could I be someplace different in my career? Sure, with focus, different goals, hard work and much different choices. But, uh..I'm doing this my way, because it's-ya know- my life.
Here here. From my seat - which is mine of my choosing of my making (failing or successing at any given moment) - Her success is her definition, yours yours, mine mine. My day is at my discretion and that's how i will forever craft each day I meet.
What I hope to leave this world is proof that "Your" assumptions about me don't impact how far I can go. So - I choose to make companies that will not show up on some index anywhere. They do employ people - support families - and those people live freely in their lives too.
I love what you write Erika - how bold you are and I admire you giving us so much of you - that book...(maybe titled "Because. Fuck You.) is one I'm hoping you'll write one day.
Love, love, love what you wrote. "it’s time for the conversation to shift away from gender and to lean towards talent."
This is why I turned down an offer to guest blog for a blog that focuses on my view of being a "woman" in my industry. Screw that! I am a professional in my industry first. Does having a vagina make it harder to close deals (especially when dealing with a man)? Maybe. But the more you think that, the more true it becomes. And I refuse to let that be a reality.
Thank you for once again writing something so pointed and for being fearless at it. :)
I agree, as a business owner who doesn't want her business to become or even approach Fortune 500 status, success means different things to different people and as a woman, I am tired of being told that I'm doing it wrong. Between the "Are you mom enough" crap to "Are you corporate enough" I just want to stand on my soap box and scream that the only thing I need to be is "Me" enough. And that I am.Thanks for reminding us that success is individual and to stop listening to the "My way is the best/only way" talking heads.
I wrote about this the other day - http://www.dangermond.org/?p=18009 - because it all was summed up in a fortune cookie for me "A Woman Who Tries To Equal Man Lacks Ambition." Nuf said. Plus - I hope you get the family you deserve - I was 50 when I met my son and I knew why it took me so long after I locked onto his eyes.