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In the fall of 1994, I was working for an HMO, when I got a call from a former boss. After a few minutes of pleasant chitchat about kids and local events, the conversation sort of stalled. It was in that pause that Michelle* lowered her voice to just above a whisper, (which was strange because she was calling from her car), and said, "I just wanted to check in to see if you are happy in your job. I'd like you to meet somebody.”
What happened next is what everyone wishes for in his or her career. A well-funded and successful telecom company was recruiting me. “We’re going global!”, the Senior Vice President of HR said, as we sipped coffee at an offbeat little coffee shop where I imagined he took all the techies he recruited. I had the chance to get in on the ground floor. International travel. Stock options. Huge growth potential. "There is one catch,” the SVP told me. "You'll have to take a cut in base pay."
“Let me think about it" I said. In the end I took the job, but I came up with all sorts of reasons why I shouldn’t negotiate for a higher salary.
I tell this story because I've spent the last couple of weeks watching and reading interviews with Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer from Facebook. First in a graduation address at Barnard College, then later in a TED Talk, and a 60 minutes interview, Ms. Sandberg describes why American business largely remains a man’s game and what women (and men) can do to change that mindset. She was so intent on igniting dialogue about this that she wrote a book called “Lean In – Women, Work and the Will to Lead”.
In the book she describes the fact that women represent over 50% of the college graduates but hold only a very small percentage of executive level jobs or board of director seats. She says we can change that. Here are a few of her observations about how to do it:
Don’t leave before you leave -Women who desire to get married and have a family sometimes don’t step up for leadership roles, as they anticipate they might have to “lean back” in the future. She says Balderdash! Go for it! When the time comes you can figure out how to balance your work and family, or take a breather before you launch back into the job you love.
One of the most important career decisions you can make is who you marry -Sandberg says that a strong partnership at home, which means you share both the housework and kid-chores, can help you maintain the energy and focus you need for your career.
Careers aren’t a ladder, they are a Jungle Gym– Sandberg says that the most important thing we can do is find meaning, contentment and passion in our jobs. The next step doesn't always have to be upward to the next rung. It might be sideways or diagonal, but it always has to fill our need for connection and purpose.
Feel worthy of recognition – Sandberg tells the story that when Mark Zuckerberg made her an offer to join Facebook she told her husband she was going to accept the offer as is, because it was generous. He went bananas and told her - You will be responsible for negotiating deals for Facebook! How does it look if you don’t negotiate your salary? Make him pay you what he’d pay a guy, he advised. So, she did. In August 2012, Sheryl Sandberg was ranked the 10th most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine, joined Facebook’s board of directors as the first female member, and owns $1 billion dollars worth of unvested stock.
I was lucky enough to learn some of these lessons from women mentors along the way and in turn I want to pay it forward with other women. I wonder what more should we be doing at Community to help women succeed in their careers? What personal responsibility do we have for mentoring and helping women grow and learn in their jobs? Let me know what you think! Reply with a comment and list your name to receive a copy of Sheryl’s new book.
(*Michelle is not the name of my old boss, but I have a lot to thank her for, because she taught me how to Lean In!)