In high school, Sheryl Sandberg, now the Chief Operating Officer for Facebook, begged her friend on the yearbook staff to not name her “Most Likely to Succeed” because that’s not the girl who gets a date to the prom. She was embarrassed. “My entire life I have been told that I should hold back on being too successful, too smart, too…lots of things.”
I watched Sheryl Sandberg on 60 Minutes talk about her new book, Lean In, based on her call to women to engage. She addresses how women deliberately exclude themselves from so much because they feel self-doubt, and learn to downplay their accomplishments at a young age. It’s a troubling observation, but I’ve seen it too, and my guess is that you have as well.
Last Friday I had the chance to speak to women at a university conference about how to balance work, family, and faith. My plea was for women to pursue education and finish their degrees, not to limit themselves because of what they think will happen, or prepare for anything that might. Sheryl Sandberg has the second part of that plea: for women to “lean in.” Meaning: don’t turn down opportunities because you’re scared they might not fit with your plans to have a family one day, or because you’re scared of accepting responsibilities, or choosing to play it too safe. Her conclusion: it’s not just men who hold women back, women do it to themselves. Lean in Sheryl Sandberg says, “The data shows that when it comes to ambition to lead, to be the leader of whatever you’re doing, men and boys outnumber girls and women…My message isn’t blaming women, there’s an awful lot we don’t control, but I’m saying there’s an awful lot we can control…we can sit at more tables, raise more hands.”
I worked in a lot of work environments over the years and I saw this happen all the time. The other women in the room wouldn’t raise their hands, wouldn’t question, wouldn’t participate, especially when company leaders were present. It always baffled me. But the moment in Sandberg’s interview that blew my mind?
“I want every little girl who’s told she’s bossy, to be told instead she has leadership skills.”
Boom. How many of you were told that you shouldn’t be so bossy? Did anyone ever tell you those were leadership skills? Are you telling your daughter to not be bossy? Do you think you’ll stop now?
At another point, Sandberg openly admits to the ever-present guilt women feel,
“I feel guilty a lot. I compare myself to the women who are at-home mothers. I’m a little intimidated, to be totally honest. Because we all feel a little insecure about our own choices, we get pitted against each other…Every woman I know feels guilty about the choices they’re making, including myself…
The things that hold women back, hold them back from the boardroom table and from speaking up at the PTA meeting.”
I’m the mother of a girl now and I worry about the messages I send to her, as well as the ones she’ll receive from her peers and colleagues. I hope that I’m teaching her that her voice is valuable, that she shows leadership skills, that she can make a difference on the PTA, in the boardroom, or anywhere else she wants to be. I don’t want her to lean back because she’s scared of what being engaged means, or how it could expose her to everything from ridicule to failure.
How do you think we should start talking to our children, and each other, about letting go of fear and stop putting limits on futures?