As we roll into Women's History Month each year, I like to take stock of how we're doing and it appears that our ability to do pull-ups and to "lean in" to our careers are part of the next phase of the working women's movement.
Already in the first quarter of 2013, American women got the right to serve in direct combat -- a role that many female military personnel say has been a reality for years in ad hoc Female Engagement, or "Lioness," Teams. But now, finally, military women will be able to go for the top leadership jobs like the Joint Chiefs of Staff and qualify for hundreds of other positions with better pay and veteran benefits.
For combat readiness in the Marine Infantry, women have to be able to do a minimum of three pull-ups (the same amount as male Marines), plus carry a 200-pound body as dead weight, move artillery weighing 40 pounds and more.
I've been practicing my pull-ups in solidarity with all the women working to qualify for combat readiness. I have used a machine at the gym that let's you do pull-ups using counter weights, but in the Marines, a pull-up is pulling your full body weight up from a standing position using your arms, shoulders and core muscles to get you up and over. Before too long I am determined to be able to do them the Marine way!
The "lean in" part of this equation comes to us from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who is ready to launch a whole new round of consciousness-raising groups called "Lean in Circles" for women who want to advance their careers. I am looking forward to reading Sheryl's new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and trust she will share how she has been so outrageously successful, banking close to a billion dollars and managing to hold her own working for the likes of Larry Summers in the U.S. Treasury Department, Larry Page at Google and Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook.
But, of course, controversy is brewing already on both the pull-up and "lean in" fronts.
The current Marine Commandant, General James F. Amos, is questioning whether women can be in the Marine Infantry and be lead by men. Recently in The New York Times, General Amos shared his belief that enlisted female Marines will do best if they have female officers as mentors. "I'm not going to bring in 18-year-old females and put them in an infantry battalion when I've got no female officers," he said.
And Ms. Sandberg is being criticized for suggesting that women, not the male-dominated corporate system, often hold themselves back with a lack of confidence, ambition and not raising their hands for new assignments.
Yet, we all know women who back off too soon when opportunity is right in front of them.
I see this lack of confidence in women business owners all too often as they wait for their product or service to be recognized rather than aggressively marketing and drawing attention to themselves and their enterprises.
In working with women business owners on their leadership skills for many years, I have found that involving successful women CEO's as mentors willing to share their expertise and know-how is a truly valuable growth experience. It doesn't mean women don't learn from men and can't be led by men. But for many women, seeing someone who looks like them in a position of power and success makes all the difference. In them, women see that they can be themselves, make more money and build a thriving organization if they so chose.
Sheryl Sandberg and other women like her can show us some new moves and help us get quality, affordable childcare and learn how to "lean in" rather than back off when the going gets tough and the opportunity is great.
Both these strategies are mainly for women who want to get to the highest levels in male-dominated organizations. And we need women at the highest level of every sector welcoming other women as employees, soldiers and future leaders.
There is also another path for women coming out of the military or leaving corporate America, one where they can create their own businesses and establish themselves as the leader of a company. Millions of women have chosen this route and they too need women at the highest levels of corporations and the military to welcome them as business partners, suppliers and consultants.
To that end, we've launched the Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps with Capital One to put women vets and military spouses who already have businesses in the same room with highly successful women business owners. Together, we will forge a powerful alliance that draws on the confidence and discipline of military women and will help all of us learn more about pulling each other up and leaning in to great success.