May 2013 Publisher Letter
May 01, 2013 02:39PM
I have been fascinated by the heated national debate stirred up by the book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Facebook COO and former Google Vice President Sheryl Sandberg. In it, she issues what she terms a “sort of feminist manifesto” lamenting the dearth of females in leadership positions and urging women to be more assertive in their professional ambitions. “It is time for us to face the fact that our revolution has stalled,” she states. “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and men ran half our homes.”
Few people disagree that somewhere along the career path women are getting lost; the contentious question is, why is this happening? The debate ranges from primitive U.S. maternity-leave laws to long workdays that leave little time for other priorities to rising age limits for mandatory retirement. Sandberg acknowledges all of these obstacles but focuses on the one that she feels is the most critical: the invisible barrier in women’s minds that creates an ambition gap. Her position is that as a whole, “Compared to our male colleagues, fewer of us aspire to senior positions.”
Like many of my sisters, I welcome this critical conversation and the surrounding debate. Yet I question whether what women really want isn’t something more than an executive seat. Perhaps the instinct to “lean back” stems more from an internal aversion to the intensely masculine model by which our nation’s businesses and economy operate. Millions of women have proven that they can function and succeed in an environment that is high-stress and aggressively competitive, but is it worth the price? Having worked for many years in a corporate environment, I am among those that know too well that stress, insomnia, anxiety and a diminished sense of wellbeing are just some of the costs. For mothers, add the price of plaguing guilt and heartbreak that comes from feeling unable to spend enough time with our children.
Do women need to become more like men to succeed? I believe that at a time when the wellbeing, if not the very survival, of our species hangs in the balance, women indeed have a crucial role to play by leaning in, as Sandberg advises, but one that is much grander than standing at the top of the corporate ladder. Instead, women can pioneer a new workplace environment by applying crucial feminine qualities, such as compassion and collaboration, which benefit everyone. Research recently published by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, demonstrates that businesses with more women on their boards are more effective and profitable. Companies need far more women in key leadership positions to successfully face the unique challenges of the 21st century, and in light of this, high-ranking positions need to evolve to better value the balance between work, quality of life and family.
When large companies and governments embrace the best of both masculine and feminine qualities, recognizing the necessity for the two to work in concert, we will together be able to create a healthier future for the world we all live in.
To enlightened leadership at all levels,
Gabriella Buchnik, Publisher