By now, many of you may have heard of, watched and interview with the author, or even started reading the book Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. For those that aren’t familiar, Sandberg is COO of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business in addition to being one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Lean In focuses on women in the workplace, the lack of females in leadership positions, and the idea that women need to be more assertive in their professional ambitions. Oprah Winfrey has even heralded the book as “The new manifesto for women in the workplace.”
I bought the book when it first came out. I thought it would be an interesting read and may be something my friends and peers would be reading as well.
It’s been sitting on my dining room table just staring at me for a few weeks now and I’d like to tell you why.
I’ve always been a hard worker. Diligent. Ambitious. Insightful. Consistent. Go-getter. Team player. When presented with a challenge, I figure out a way to overcome it. When socked with a setback, I pick myself up and keep trudging on. When things are humming along at the status-quo, I figure out ways to do it better/faster/bigger. I stay late. I work weekends. For the past 4+ weeks I've rarely eaten lunch. No, not eaten at my desk while working....just looked up after running around all day to see it was 5:30 and no longer lunchtime. Basically, I do good work and do what I have to do to make sure it all gets done.
About a month after my boss was let go, it was time for annual reviews. I knew it was coming…it was just a matter of when. I stopped into my “new” boss’s office to tell him how well a training session had gone earlier that day, trying to get in some face time and make sure he heard first-hand what I was working on. He asked if I had a few moments to do my review, as if there was the option to say no. I shut the door behind me and took a seat.
The good news was that my actual review had been written up by my original boss before he left, so at least there was SOME reference to the work I had done over the course of the year and the progress that had been made. The bad news was there wasn’t really much substantive feedback. Nothing constructive for me to walk away with, think about and then formulate and action plan for professional improvement.
And then…..well, then I realized there was even worse news.
When “new boss” gave me his own review/critique/feedback….well, it was pretty interesting.
“Try not to be too aggressive in meetings.”
“You are wearing pink today; it makes you look more cheerful.”
I wish I was joking. You guys you have NO IDEA how much I wish this was an April Fool’s joke.
And what did I do as he said this? I nodded, smiled and took it all. What other choice did I have?
I walked back to my office in a daze, feeling like I had fell through a wormhole and at any minute Don Draper was going to ask me to hold his calls and get him some more ice.
Because I’m a woman, my questioning of colleagues in meetings -- “I gave you edits back three weeks ago, where is the final draft?” or “I notice a project left off this list but I don’t know the current status, can I have an update?” -- is considered too AGGRESSIVE. While I can’t say with complete certainty, I think if I were a man, I may have been praised for being ASSERTIVE and keeping my colleagues to task so that projects stayed on their respective timelines.
And I think it goes without saying that I am really f*cking certain that none of my male colleagues would EVER be advised on what color work clothes suited them better.
I’m 35 years old. I’ve been in the “working world” for the past 10+ years since finishing my Master’s degree. And I can say that in that time, I have never felt totally and 100% discriminated against and treated differently for being a woman. That all changed a few weeks ago when the only takeaway I got was to wear more pink.
And it gets worse….I’ve heard similar stories from other female colleagues. There was an instance of a direct report (a male) refusing to continue reporting to his boss (a female) because she was “irrational” (which was a load of crap.) Instead of the direct report being questioned about the working relationship and what made thing seem so difficult, he was simply assigned to report to someone else (another man.) Another female colleague confirmed for me our mutual (male) colleague’s penchant for talking to both of us as if we were middle-schoolers. On the one hand it was gratifying to know it wasn’t just me being overly sensitive. On the other hand it was demoralizing to know he was talking to others that way and that it was considered acceptable.
I've also come to learn that my male colleagues had been invited to attend game watches at new boss’s home during football season. I’m a sports fan. Eagles/ Phillies/Terps paraphernalia decorating my office should confirm that. Yet never received an invite. Wonder why….
Lately, I’ve felt sick to my stomach at work. I tense up in the mornings as I drive to the building. I lie awake at night worried about the next day. I am seething on the inside but walk around with a dumb smile on my face.
I feel angry. I feel anxious.
But worse? I feel hopeless.
So I don’t know what good reading Lean In will do me right now. I’m scared that my current workplace doesn’t see me as equal to my male colleagues. (To be fair, it may just be my smaller group within the company, but still.) I never dreamed things like this still existed in the workplace. I’m sorry to tell you all that they still do.
So what can I do, Ms. Sandberg?? I’ve advocated on my behalf. I’ve worked hard. I’ve often been put in positions where I had no support/instruction/direction/guidance and still managed to get the job done.
But none of that matters….because I haven’t smiled enough or worn enough cheerful colors.