I have read 39% of Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. I know that because I'm reading the Kindle version and it tells me so. There are excellent tips and ideas in the book, but I keep wondering why many women I know, including myself, who opted out of corporate America for most of our careers and why the idea of "leaning in" -- though definitely important -- wasn't the path for so many of us.
Last week, Laura Linney was honored at a Women in Film luncheon. She spoke about the sad realities of the lack of women in power in the film and television industries. She said she rarely does a scene with another woman; that the writers, producers and executives are almost all men; and they spend more time discussing the shades of her hair then they do her performance or the show. She said that twenty years ago, that wasn't the case. Women in powerful positions seem to have diminished in so many industries. The statistics are dire. But why? I had friends who worked at the networks and studios and many left because they felt dismissed, disrespected and felt that they had to work twice as hard as any man.
I have been pondering the situation that women are facing since I picked up Ms. Sandberg's book. I believe it is because now, many women have decided that we do not want that CEO or COO title or the presidency in a male-dominated corporate culture. We do not all want seven-figure salaries with bonuses if it means our life becomes a 60+ hour work week, insane amounts of stress, no pleasure and the idea that we have to know the football scores if we are going to sit in a room full of men.
My first job out of college was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working for the Chairman of the Organizational Psychology department at the Sloan School of Management. The man I worked for, Edgar Shein, did a study on entrepreneurs and I found their careers to be the most fascinating. I also worked for a woman, Lotte Bailyn, and she did a study of women in academia that showed younger women find support from their male mentors and rise, and then, as they get older, they find their support diminishing.
When I think about the most powerful and brilliant women I know, they are not following a corporate path. Most of them are creating their own businesses and opting out of careers that do not feed their souls. They do not want to work in corporations that don't allow them to grow as people, to have family time, to slow down, to breathe. Most of the women in my circle are filmmakers, educators, health policy makers, doctors, nurses, writers, therapists, business owners and writers.
I know a woman who is an OB/GYN, Dr. Lissa Rankin, who couldn't stand the medical system, the insurance companies, the hospitals and the kind of limited care she was able to give her patients. So she quit. Exploring answers to her own health problems, she wrote a book called Mind Over Medicine about our inner self-healing resources and the ineffectiveness (and dangers) of traditional medicine. Her mission is "to heal health care while empowering people to heal themselves." The book is becoming a best-seller. She opted out of the traditional path of being a doctor because she felt that the system was failing her patients.
Many women have created businesses that help others produce and be successful in their own businesses based on their interests and passions. Marie Forleo, Danielle LaPorte and Regena Thomashauer are three who come to mind, but there are so many of them doing this kind of work.
I have a friend who had been a children's book author for most of her career (while raising four kids). At 60, she found that she couldn't get any more books published and she was feeling unmoored, unsure of what to do. One night, she went to an NYU dinner and she was seated next to the Dean of the School of Social Work. She said to him, "In my next life I'd like to come back and be a social worker." And he said, "Why wait until your next life?" And she said, "Well, I'm 60. I'm too old." And he said, "Absolutely not! You would be far from the oldest student. Your life experience is priceless." So she applied, got accepted, loved being back in school, and now, 12 years later and working as a therapist, she is happier than she's ever been in her life.
Another message: It is never too late to pursue your dreams.
Now, the saddest mess is in Washington, D.C. I honestly don't know why Hillary Clinton would want to be President. We can't get a gun control law passed, even with innocent children being shot every single day. I could write a list so long of what hasn't been accomplished in Washington because of the lobbies, the politics and the bureaucracy (love that broken up - bureau/crazy) but it is just too depressing. That system is so broken, I don't know how it can ever be fixed.
I do feel encouraged when I hear my senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, push back against gun violence or sexual assault in the military. I watch the videos of Elizabeth Warren grilling bank regulators on illegal foreclosure and cheer her on. But then there are others "in the sisterhood" who have set the country back on climate change, education, immigration, reproductive rights... the list goes on. The holy grail is not more women in leadership just to have women in leadership -- we need women who know how to fight for what women want, like equity in the workplace and policies that make "family values" possible, not just a catchphrase for getting votes.
"Leaning in" is great for those who have the stomach to work within male-dominated corporate cultures. Brava to them. Go inside and change things! We're rooting for you! Make that difference, but don't dismiss the rest of us.
I am watching women in their 20's and 30's forging their own way -- differently than the generations before them. It's a challenge, but the more women help and support each other, the better our lives will be. We don't have to follow the male model of competition, we are creating a new model: support and encouragement. I believe that Sheryl Sandberg's book is an excellent resource for that.
We're finding our purpose on a different path and watch out -- we are going to succeed. It may take awhile to work outside of the system, but it will happen. Women are the majority, and we want equal rights for everyone -- women, men, gay men, lesbians, every race, every ethnicity, children, people with disabilities, everyone -- and we're not going to rest until we make that happen.
I know that there are companies now that are embracing change and thinking about putting quality of life as a priority for their employees.
Those are the corporations we will run -- and they will thrive. We must support them. When films, television shows and theater come out with stories that address our lives and are written, produced and acted in by women -- we will support them. When bills come up that focus on the issues we want addressed, we must make sure our elected officials are supporting them. We must support each other in our businesses, our personal lives, and our dreams.
We will lean in when and where it benefits the most people.
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