Take Action on Lean In… Here’s What Sheryl Sandberg should do. A review on Ms. Sandberg’s book and what we need to think about. Thoughts on what she should do.
I commend Ms. Sandberg’s courage with her writing partner to address gender issues- women emphasis- on reaching higher attainment in leadership positions.
She correctly identifies the social history and evolution in educational achievement for women. The statistics indicate higher levels of education among women than men yet women are woefully underrepresented in leadership relative to a 50/50 population notion e.g. a 50/50 split at c-suite positions of F 500 companies.
Her thinking runs amok in an effort to define too many absolutes about career progress. She doesn’t seem to Take Action herself within a powerful company. Instead she sets up a foundation and a website to talk about issues.
Unfortunately, and I don’t have an answer to this, this whole topic of gender workplace equality of opportunity is very gray. Why?
First: We no longer just have the issue of women or race, but all kinds of gender identity, multi-cultural, and language needs to address in workplace diversity. Then there’s industry variation, and business cycles. So it’s not just about women, but everyone.
Second: Not even a fraction of 1% of people can ever be a CEO of any company much less a F500. Irrespective of gender 99+% never can or will ever be a CEO…period. Think Occupy Wall Street if you wish… But life deals different hands with all kinds of choices. I don’t necessarily believe there are intractable institutional career impediments to anyone and don’t trust the women statistics she frequently cites as Ah Ha revelations… There’s the problem now we can fix it.
Third: Few of us go through Harvard with a future cabinet secretary as a faculty adviser who then helps you land a DC White House job, then you get to interview with the CEO of Google, have him convince you to take a job that you don’t have any engineering background or much management experience for, and then get recruited as COO pre-IPO to Facebook by its founders.
The you can do it if you simply work hard and Lean In falls flat if you think about it.
But that’s life! Why the proportions fall as they do as Ms. Sandberg indicates is unclear to her. She makes explicit suggestions as to people and reasons involved. For example, women aren’t approaching their career with enough confidence and assertiveness; men need to become better partners in support of women; and implicitly companies and our institutions need to do more.
I admit there’s something to the numbers but qualitatively there’s aspects and gaps in the analysis I cannot account for; and I defy anyone else to. I believe we should all have opportunities and choices towards whatever pursuits we wish but I’m not sure a 50/50 target is ever the desired outcome for many of us. What is ideal in a progressive, multicultural society? Who really knows?
BUT as a practical matter here’s a business plan I would encourage Ms. Sandberg to pursue that can move towards a goal. Straight out of her B-school scholarship create the business case she professes with defined action items, and ROI metrics. Here’s how:
- Don’t just talk Act! Become CEO of Facebook, encourage Mark Zuckerberg to step into chair, CTO or product role. I think just because he’s a founder does not mean he should be the CEO of a public company. The IPO was a disaster and hurt untold numbers of retail investors. The kind of problem Occupy Wall Streeters should be yelling about.
- CEO Sandberg can demonstrate her leadership capabilities;
- Balance the C-Suite people representations however she sees fit;
- Lean In from the front rather than from the soap box.
- Put a $100MM or more into a Harvard Institute– Call the Mission 50/50 Gender Equality for C-Level Achievement
- Encourage enrollment on 50/50 basis for as many students possible, perhaps skew higher to women to have a hedge against attrition, that fast tracks women into plum positions with Larry, Robert, Eric, Hillary and their many celebrated power friends;
- Create a business lab that simulates the business environment and add practical skills to students;
- Build in women the confidence in leadership skills they need and in men the supportive partner skills they need;
- Equalize the field by giving practically anyone who applies the Harvard network effect for the bounty of opportunity the association provides.
If Ms. Sandberg believes in her ideas, then put them to work. Her Lean In .org and foundation seems more like a non profit community group of limited practical value rather than a real business game changer. It feels like something many women, fewer men, would chair for weekly luncheons.
I credit Ms. Sandberg with high intelligence, talent, and ability but ask her to lead rather than talk about her convictions as if she’s campaigning for office. We have enough politicians talking about the 21st c Great Society notion without an ability to actually do anything. She can greatly affect business change as a current operating executive at a major company.
Ms. Sandberg, Take Action don’t just lean in…!
Peter Klinge is a leader for small to mid size companies. We focus on helping companies achieve their desired growth potential.