Guest Post by Grace Killelea of Half the Sky (Learn more about Grace at the end of this post)
It doesn’t really matter whether Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s much-anticipated book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is a great read.
All reports say it will be. It doesn’t matter because it’s already done its job.
That’s because the book already has spurred badly needed — and hopefully well-reasoned — discussion about the role of women in the corporate world. Much of the news we read today is so polarizing, resorting to black and white positioning, and simply doesn’t address the complexity of the issue.
That said, the idea that women need to “lean in” is a good one. We do need to own our careers and be accountable for our performance, although it’s only half of the equation.
The other half? Companies and leaders need to remove barriers they have to women being promoted.
For starters, we need to stay away from the either/or thinking that’s too prevalent today in all walks of life. Women can’t be expected to “lean in” if there isn’t a place to “lean into,” and let’s not assume that many women aren’t already leaning.
Instead, let’s add and to our conversations. For example, women need to own their careers, and employers need to be conscious of the barriers (inadvertent or otherwise) they may have in their companies.
In addition, let’s keep our talent conversations focused on aspiration/leadership goals/ability, as well as company needs. Let’s not make assumptions about a woman’s desire to have a family as a sign she couldn’t be interested in having a career. And another thing — let’s stop assuming all women aspire to marry and have children.
So, what is it about? Consider:
- Studies repeatedly show that men get promoted on potential, while women get promoted on performance. That’s a double standard that companies can work to correct.
- A high percentage of women in management roles express their interest in future promotions, yet there is huge fall off of women in mid-level management roles. We cannot oversimplify the “why” of this critical issue. It’s not just because women want to have families or plan to marry. Women can be overlooked and discouraged at this critical juncture in their professional lives.
- It’s not just a lack of “will” that keeps women from being promoted — if it’s a lack of a skill or skills, that can be remedied with development programs. Instead, companies and bosses need to consider unconscious biases (for example, she’s too young, she’s a mother, she won’t travel because she has children) to create a workplace where women can go after the opportunities that interest them. If women are going to lean — give them something to lean toward.
As women continue to take ownership of their careers, competencies and goals and as companies take ownership of their internal practices, address unconscious bias, and solve the issues mentioned above, we will go a long way toward a more productive and successful workforce- and it’s about time.
About the Author
Grace Killelea is Founder and CEO of Half the Sky, a leadership program for women. A 35-year veteran of the telecommunications industry, Grace served in multiple leadership roles, most recently as Senior Vice President of Talent and the first ever Vice President of Talent Management and Leadership Diversity at Comcast Cable Corporation, before she retired to launch her own consulting company.