Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Sayings: Now. Here. This.

We all need a reminder to be in the now. The past is past; we can't change it. Wondering what might have been just wastes today. But some days, it's a struggle. Some days I need someone or my internal voice screaming at me:
Now. Here. This.
The past comes with a lot of baggage. Sometimes we're able to let go, walk away and start fresh. Sometimes, try as we might, we can't. We may not even realize that the past is still with us, slowing us down, coloring our present, and affecting our future.
Sometimes we need a reminder. A reality check. Earlier this week, Amy of This Heart Of Mine did just that when she blogged about the struggle to find balance between crossing off to dos and those moments when everything is shut out. She wasn't talking about letting the past go and focusing on the present, but her mantra applies.
Now. Here. This.
Let me backtrack a little and give you the context for why I needed Amy's mantra on Friday. Something's that's been brewing in me for awhile that I've been trying to hold back, broke free when I read the NY Times article, School Vote Stirs Debate on Girls as Leaders. The piece revealed baggage I thought I'd successfully discarded.
What did it stir up? Lack of leadership opportunities for women and my frustration with the men and the women who still don't get where we need to focus our efforts.
We do not live in a post-gender, post-race, post-class society.
Girls have not had equal access to top leadership positions
--John G. Palfrey Jr., the headmaster at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA (Source: NY Times)
Leadership opportunities for women aren't about simply leaning in or raising our hands in class. The lack of opportunities are cultural. Systemic. This elephant is even at the heart of the opposition to same-sex marriages. The elephant in the room is how society defines a man and a woman and by that definition what men can do and what women can do.
"I want to focus on what we can do as individuals, what are the messages we need to tell ourselves, what are the messages we tell the women that work with and for us, what are the messages we tell our daughters. ... My talk today is about what the messages are if you do want to stay in the workforce. And I think there are three: 1. Sit at the table. 2. Make your partner a real partner.
And, 3. Don't leave before you leave
--Sheryl Sandberg (Source: TED-Ed)
My baggage, my path to a seat at the table, colors what I think of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In movement. That's why I need to hear: "Now. Here. This." I might not agree with Sandberg, but at least she's gotten people talking about women in leadership roles.
Now. Here. This.
While I would love for us to live in a genderless world, I appreciate the futility of such a desire.
We label things to understand our environment, and labels often identify differences. When it comes to gender, by early elementary school age gender-role behavior definition, which starts as early as 2 or 3, is virtually complete. Maybe it's naive, but I believe if we can expand the behaviors children assign to women, there will be greater access to leadership positions for women and more women pursuing leadership opportunities in generations to come.
Why do I believe targeting gender-role behavior will lead to more leadership opportunities for women and hence more female leaders? Because of who most got in my way while I tried to reach for leadership roles. Because of who believed an Executive MBA would only be useful for my male counterparts. Not men, but women.
For me, outside of school environments, I can't think of one female who encouraged or helped me to pursue an advancement or tackle a publicly visible, high risk, project. If there'd been one who had even just sat quietly rather than make the path harder, I'd name them. There wasn't.
Now. Here. This.
Now that Sandberg has the spotlight, I think she needs to call out the elephant in the room. Here's why. My path to my MBA, my key to potential leadership roles, wasn't an easy one.
When I first began applying to full-time programs, admissions staff told me to get more leadership experience or recommended an Executive MBA. Here I was faced with a chicken and the egg dilemma. My female manager didn't see a need for me to get an MBA, stating it would be wasted on me as I'd probably get married soon and start a family. To advance in the organization, I needed an MBA. Until I had one I wouldn't even be considered for advancement into leadership roles. Because of my manager's belief that I would leave the workforce, I couldn't get her to sign off on the paperwork for an Executive MBA program. I'd removed all risk, all downside, from the equation. The company wouldn't be wasting any of their money. They would actually benefit from an MBA I was funding.
"[N]o one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side not at the table. And no one gets the promotion if they don't think they deserve their success or if they don't understand their own success."
--Sheryl Sandberg (Source: TED-Ed)
I have my MBA, so obviously I found a way over this hurdle. My solution was to start my own business and to seek out clients that would give me leadership opportunities. (In case you're curious, all of my clients were men. The few women who were willing to take a risk would only do so if I worked for free.) Before you think this extreme, I first tried getting leadership roles within my company, going so far as taking a vacation and showing up at a key industry conference on my own time and my own dime to get the access to the CEO that my manager was blocking. The events team had been struggling to find staff to work the conference and the CEO had called for volunteers within the organization who were knowledgeable about the product. I'd volunteered but my manager had not put forth my name. Unfortunately for me this stunt occurred a week prior to my review. My manager wrote me up for insubordination; I refused to sign the review disagreeing with her assessment. Our HR manager (another woman) would not amend the review. I founded my own business the next day.
Now. Here. This.
"Now. Here. This." for me means approaching Sandberg's Lean In movement with a beginner's mind, non-judgementally. It means leaving my past, my path to leadership in the past. Those of us women who want the opportunities can easily nod our heads in agreement with her. But, because Sandberg is easily sound-byteable, her remarks often taken out of context, polarize those who read or hear them. What does she think those of us mid- or late-career have been doing? But her message isn't for us. It's for who we were when we started our careers. It's the advice we've learned through hard knocks. It's not commonsense to those starting out.
She's the first to admit she doesn't have the answer, and notes that for her generation it's too late, we won't see substantial differences in our leadership opportunities. She wants to change the world for her young daughter. She believes it can be different for her daughter's generation.
I think it might also be too late for Sandberg's daughter and her daughter's peers. They have already defined their gender-role behaviors. There will be an opportunity before adolescence to somewhat affect these definitions. But only if we act fast. They also have to face teachers and managers who limit gender-role behaviors for women. The Lean In movement targets those who will be her daughter's manager but not those who will be her teachers. The opportunities we have in school (student body leadership, newspaper or yearbook editorial positions, and so on) affect our choices for college, for internships, for our first jobs. The Lean In movement doesn't address those who have the most impact on our daughters.
By the very fact she's Sheryl Sandberg daughter, she'll probably never travel my path. But that path is a potential reality for other women's daughters. Women shouldn't have to resort to herculean efforts to realize their dreams. We need society to change. We need for the national discourse to stop focusing solely on one of our abilities: our biological capacity to bear children. We need the national discourse to start caring about education and teaching our children to think, not simply to take tests well.
Ciao Bella!
Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life. Sunday Sayings is a weekly series, published every Sunday, featuring an inspirational quote or a motto along with an anecdote of why I chose it.