In the early 1960s when Gloria Steinem inspired American women across the country to burn their bras, I was just another boy-crazy high school girl. I still remember sitting in the living room with my family watching these impassioned women set their Maidenforms alight. Even though I didn't quite understand how women going braless was significant at the time, I knew from listening to Gloria Steinem in her flared jeans and trademark sunglasses that she was an amazing woman at the forefront of an important movement.
Interestingly, the debate over the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, did not just divide men and women. It also created a clash amongst women. The images of women with octagonal signs that said "STOP ERA" pinned to the front of their dresses is something I will never forget. The passage of the amendment in 1972 changed the course of history and paved the way for women to pursue careers in every field.
Today of course we have women doctors, Supreme Court justices, astronauts, politicians and CEOs. Despite these achievements, I don't feel modern women have ever quite escaped the echo of those resistant crowds protesting against equality. Women today can be leaders or innovators yet there is a steep price of admission for women who can take the helm or negotiate tough deals.
A good example of this is all the negative publicity Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer received for changing the telecommuting policy for all Yahoo employees. Mayer was attacked in the press -- dubbed "anti-woman" and "anti-family." I couldn't help but think that if Mayer were a man, she would have been praised for being a hard-nosed leader not to mention a visionary for creating a retro collaborative work environment.
In her book, Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg addresses this double standard. She points out that men become more well-liked as they become more successful. On the Katie Couric Show last week, Sandberg pointed out that when it comes to women, along with their success comes a word that rhymes with "witch." In fact, a 2003 experiment highlighted a case study where a successful female entrepreneur's name was changed to a male name and the negotiation was viewed more favorably.
It may be different for younger generations of women but for mine there was the expectation that we would negotiate only as the "wife of" or as the "mother of." For us the glass barrier is the feeling of guilt for being assertive and for choosing not to be the peacemaker.
At the end of the day, equality is about being able to negotiate for yourself as an individual emotionally and financially. So the next time you're presented with an opportunity to put yourself forward, you should "lean in" without worrying you'll fall off the glass cliff.