THOSE OF US WHO BEGAN careers long before the women's movement are startled by advice from Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook CEO, on how to get ahead. Her new book, "Lean In, Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," lays out a clear plan with examples, for women who want to become leaders in the business world.
Easier said than done, Sheryl, especially by women who have been far less advantaged than you all their lives. True, some people with a "leg up" of money, connections and education like yours don't get ahead. But those things make it a lot easier to try.
I speak from experience. Mine began in the 1950s, when I broke into the male-dominated newspaper business. During my first job search, the managing editor of Chicago's world famousCity News Bureau told me he couldn't give me a job because "We tried that during the war (WW2) when all the guys went into the service, but it didn't work. The gals distracted the reporters. So now that the men are back, we don't do that anymore."
It's hard to remember what I was thinking when I shook my head in agreement that of course I would be a distraction to any red-blooded newsman, and I should be his secretary instead.
That never happened.
I fought the hard fight before it was fashionable, and stopped out about three years after marriage, to free-lance from home for community newspapers while my children were young. But I went back to the office when the kids went to school, and later got a full time job as a features writer at the famous Chicago Daily News. When that paper folded, I went on to become founding features editor of Crain's Chicago Business, the first in that now successful consumer business newspaper chain.
But Sheryl's advice is right in many ways.Women DO try and smile and be pleasant and make people like us, instead of taking charge and acting like leaders. Women must learn to present themselves as Sheryl says:"legs apart, hands on hips, chest proudly forward."
Perhaps all that smiling and "nurturing" I did, that made my colleagues like me, did hold me back, but as a result, now, in my later years, I still have a host of wonderful friends among those journalists. And best of all, I never had to spend my work time in conferences, meetings, hiring, firing, administrating budgets or doing any of the other work I always avoided because I considered it boring.
So I offer this suggestion to women: Look around and see what you really ENJOY and feel passionate about doing at the office, and concentrate on getting to do that.
I, for one, liked walking around the city streets talking to people, then coming back to the office to write about what they said. I didn't tell anyone else what to do. The only leadership role I needed, was enough power to be able to enterprise my own assignments, get approval from the front office to execute them, and write them so well I was allowed to continue doing that.
Sheryl also dismisses family roles and childcare as really simple if you look at the men who are asking to marry you and choose the right one who will share those responsibilities as her husband does.
Looking at my grandchildren and their friends, I don't see much enthusiasm for sharing or even taking much responsibility for anything. Instead it seems most in their generation are more concerned with their individual life's dreams. And, if a woman is lucky enough to find a sainted Mr. Sandberg, remember the divorce rate still is 50 percent.
Actually, without following any of Sandberg's rules, I simply found a great guy to love, and he loved me back enough to voluntarily do all that. As a result we enjoyed almost 56 happy years together until his death in 2007. He understood, without our saying it, that by liberating me he liberated himself because I gladly carried half of HIS wage earning responsibilities when most other women didn't. There are some things, I believe, that you just have to leave up to fate and personal attraction. .
As I lived through those eras from "Hey, Babe," to "Miss" to "Mrs." and finally, to the freedom and dignity of "Ms." , I also cheered when our beloved leaders like Gloria Steinhem said such things as, "Forget that laundry soap commercial, 'Ring Around the Collar'. Tell him to wash his neck!"
What I'm saying is that while Sheryl's advice is certainly true for her and all totally advantaged women like her, many of us, who start way down in the bottom of the trenches, don't ever have an opportunity to apply the Lean In rules for grabbing leadership.
This discussion is far from over.