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Article No.: 13-9, September 1, 2013

Article Title: Comments on Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg

Submitted by Guest Columnist Michelle Litmer

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Sheryl Sandberg, the current Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, reflected on some of her personal career experiences, shared statistics regarding women and work, and offered suggestions on how individuals and employers can make the work world a more encouraging place for female leaders.  Sheryl encouraged men and women to “lean in” to situations that may be new or challenging.  She suggested that women start to sit at the table, instead of waiting for permission.  She also encouraged women to speak up and make reasonable requests.  When Sheryl asked Google to implement pregnancy parking, they did. 
 
Sheryl offered a variety of statistics about women and work and spending time with family. Technology has enabled some of us to work remotely, which offers convenience. Technology, has also led some of us to be plugged in all the time.  Stats indicate that men and women who work in white collar positions work an average of almost nine additional hours a week in 2010, versus 1970.  This suggests that career may play a larger role in many of our lives, for men and women. 
 
Other stats suggested that parents spend more “quality time” with their children today versus decades ago.  I can relate.  A month ago I posted a comment about Abby, my daughter being excited over a play date.  Joy, the Mother of one of my high school friend’s replied, asking when they became organized “play dates.”  Years ago, a child would yell, “I am heading to my friend’s house.”  Both of my daughters started child care at eight weeks old, since I worked full-time.  Since I do not spend as many hours with them as my mother did, I try to make the limited time valuable.  Today, I stay at more birthday parties and play dates, getting more of the quality time, the statistic identified. 
 
Sheryl encouraged us to embrace challenges, even though we are scared.  She also suggested that before saying no to a more challenging work assignment, reach out to your partner and friends and find out who will be willing to support your career.  She noted that it is oaky to say no to an opportunity that does not interest you; she cautioned do not immediately say no without exploring how it might work.
 
Mentoring is a hot topic since we expect employees to retire, in some cases taking their valuable knowledge with them.  Sheryl identified a few informal mentors she has benefited from throughout her career; informal in that they were not assigned via a formal mentoring program.  Sheryl cautioned to respect the mentor’s time, follow up on how you used his or her advice, and find a way to help your mentor.  Sheryl acknowledged that it may be more challenging for a woman to find a mentor since more leaders are men and people sometimes gravitate to people like them.  She commended forward thinking mentors who recognize the difference. One gentleman admitted that he would be uncomfortable meeting a female mentee for dinner or drinks so he adopted a general policy to only meet mentees, women or men, for breakfast or lunch. He wanted to ensure he was not giving women a disadvantage.     
 
Since I became a Mother eight years ago, I have encountered more challenges as a woman who has a full-time career.  I recently began a leadership training program through work.  The experience has been the most rewarding leadership experience I have had in my career.  The most challenging aspect of the program is missing time with my family.  Years ago, I assumed that I would not consider missing Halloween trick-or-treating with my children to participate in a work event.  However, I recognized the value in the program, so I talked with my husband about the challenges we would face and how we would meet them. 
 
Reading Lean In encouraged me that I am not alone finding a way to balance work and home.  The book also helped me recognize that what works for me may not work for someone else.  I recommend men and women, organizational leaders, supervisors, and individual contributors read Lean In.  Reading the book may open the door for further discussion about gender issues in the workplace.   

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