I picked up an interesting book written by the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg. This book offers some valuable insights on our current workplace and the role of women in it. She talks about the need of more women taking up leadership roles and the reason why they are held back or hold themselves back.
Here are some of the points mentioned in the book that I found extremely relevant. I am certain that most of you would have witnessed at least some of the points that Sheryl mentions.
Career progression often depends upon taking risks and advocating for oneself— traits that girls are discouraged from exhibiting. This explains why while we see many women at the entry level jobs, very few women progress to the leadership roles. When jobs are described as demanding, powerful, and challenging – they appeal more to men than women. Even among highly educated professional men and women, more men than women describe themselves as “ambitious”.
It is undeniable that our current environment poses greater obstacles to the women, the pattern of being less ambitious starts long before the women enter the workforce.
Women hold themselves back, literally choosing to watch from the sidelines. Multiple studies have shown that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better than it actually is. Women, even when they do receive accolades, feel unworthy of recognition. And it’s not just women who are tough on themselves. Colleagues also discredit the success to external factors for a woman’s achievements.
Research has shown that when a man is successful, he is liked more by both men and women vs. when a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less. This bias, on the surface may seem like it has been exaggerated, but is true and of course, shocking!
Therefore, when women are appreciated, they mostly owe the success to the environment, their colleagues and peers. While, the reverse is true for men. When a man is successful, he is usually more comfortable owning up the success and owing it to the hard work that he has put in. You would have heard women say, “we had a good year”, or “we did a good job”, etc. whereas men are more likely to say, “I had a good year” or “I did a good job”.
The current reality is that there are very few women in the leadership roles and they are looked as exceptions. It is easier to dislike these few women who are in the leadership roles. The real change will come when more and more women take up the leadership roles and they will not be viewed as an exception.
Disliking so many women at once is going to be far more difficult.
I particularly like this point. It also speaks of the scarcity mentality that most of us are raised with. We look at careers as ladders, meaning there is only one way up. If we view it as a jungle gym, there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym and this model benefits everyone, but especially women who might be starting careers, switching careers, getting blocked by external barriers, or re-entering the workforce after taking time off.
Mentorship is crucial for career progression. Several studies show that men will often gravitate toward sponsoring younger men, with whom they connect more naturally. Since there are so many more men in the managerial and leadership positions, the proverbial old-boy network continues to flourish. And since there are so few women in the leadership roles, the men will have to pitch in to support the women by mentoring them.
From a very young age, women are raised to believe that they will have a lot of responsibilities and that taking care of the family and household will be one of their prime responsibilities. Hence, when women get to the workforce, they come with a mindset of trade-offs to balance their professional and personal lives.
Without even realising, they hold themselves back and stop reaching for opportunities. Personal choices are not always as personal as they appear. They are influenced by social conventions, peer pressure, and familial expectations.
As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home. There are many women who inadvertently discourage their partners from doing their share of household work by being too controlling or too critical. What’s also disturbing is that men and women are penalised for prioritising family over work, but men may pay an even higher price as they are faced with mockery and criticism too.
All of us—men and women alike—need to understand how biases could cloud our beliefs and judgement. Instead of ignoring our differences, we need to accept them. It is time for everyone of us to help and support each other, to lean in and help everyone grow.