Have the women of PR succeeded because we’re lucky or because we’re smart and we work hard? According to Facebook COO and “Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg, while men tend to take credit for a company’s success, women often ascribe success to “luck, help from others, and working hard.”
Sandberg has started a national discussion that has gone from the Silicon Valley, to Oprah, to “The Daily Show” and recently, to Boston at a breakfast hosted by the New England Venture Capital Association at the Harvard Club.
One of Sandberg’s tenets is the importance of fostering confidence in women. This week, Andrew Ross Sorkin interviewed Irene Dorner, president and CEO of HSBC USA in The New York Times. She said the problem of the glass ceiling is matched by the “sticky floor”—that is, women who don’t proactively seek higher-level positions.
How can we build this confidence? Sandberg reminded us that we should feel free to make our own rules, because the old ones aren’t working that well. Women need to mentor other women. It’s an easy slide into the “I did it the hard way and so should you” mentality, which discourages young women who need mentors more than critics.
Don’t be a queen bee, a woman who achieved success in male-dominated environments and tends to oppose the rise of other women. Sandberg said, “A great boss gives credit to everyone else when things are going well and when they are not, says how can I fix it?”
Following are a few of my favorite pieces of advice for women from this broader discussion:
Balance. Sandberg said, “Families with more balance are happier.” I, too, believe that balance is crucial to success. You have to show up for work and your personal life with equal passion if you want to be good at either one. Of course, balance is not something that is attainable every single day or week. A culture that strives toward balance is also one that fosters teamwork and wards off resentment when deadlines bring late nights.
Process is not progress. Irene Dorner said: “Women do funny things. They do things like work very hard and expect to be noticed for it—and they’re not, because it doesn’t work like that.” Knowing the difference between hard work and smart work is elemental to success. Our clients don’t give us credit for working hard. We get credit for getting great results. It’s up to us to shine a light on those great results. No one is going to do it for us.
Done is better than perfect. As I like to say, you need to know when good enough is good enough.
Sit at the table. Not in the back of the room or at the side of the table. When preparing for important meetings, we tell employees that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Walk into the room, look the person in the eye, shake his or her hand confidently, and behave as though you belong at that table.
Sandberg’s “Lean In” foundation is doing amazing things to support women and to move this from discussion to action. Last year, I was thrilled to see Liza Mundy’s piece in Time magazine about the progress women have made. Nearly four in 10 working wives out-earn their husbands (up 50 percent from 20 years ago). More needs to be done, and as with all change, it starts with small steps. Sandberg suggested that each person begin by simply inviting a woman to the table, today.