Sheryl Sandberg spoke to the HBS Class of 2012 recently. In the midst of the Facebook IPO chaos and drama many were hoping she would talk more specifically about that but her speech centered on the evolution of her career and the role of women in leadership positions in organizations that are predominantly held by men.
As a woman who was in the traditional corporate world for a while I have to agree that as much progress has not been made as we would like. I think it also speaks though to the problem that as women choose to start families the paths to remain in corporate America are not clear and seemed to be filled with so many compromises that many women don’t want to make.
In the Harvard Business School Class Address she does speak for the need for women to be themselves in their corporate/outside organizational environments. She has gotten some interesting publicity with stories about her leaving work at a reasonable time and crying for some reason or other at work. She mentions that both of the stories weren’t exactly the way they were represented in the press. I have to say that I agree with this because I think one of the things that turns bright women off from pursuing bigger roles in bigger organizations is that they have to either change or hide who they really are in order to compete with what the world sees as the personality that is required to be successful at higher levels.
In some ways I challenge the notion that most women would love to climb the corporate/organizational ladder. I think that is why you see many starting smaller businesses that offer them not just flexibility but the opportunity to continue to develop their professional interests. The notion that every woman graduating from business school should want to be a Sheryl Sandberg or a Marissa Mayer may be true but not in the numbers that you might think. Keep in mind both of these accomplished women got to where they are in different ways.
Sandberg’s story has been recounted many times and you can actually find an interesting retelling of it in a book a recently read The Start Up of You by Reid Hoffman(of LinkedIn) and Ben Casnocha. Her background is in Economics and Business with an interest in social issues. Marissa Mayer’s background is in Computer Science and her ascendance in Google rested on her success with User Interfaces on projects like Google + and Google Search. If you have not read The Start Up of You I think is a great place to start for both new grads and those women who need to understand the nuances of developing/managing a career throughout a lifetime. Where sadly sometimes it is not about how good you are at what you do but who you know.
Though I may not be one of them, keeping bright and ambitious women in corporate America is a worthy goal. Like racial diversity, gender diversity is an asset for understanding today’s customers. I graduated from Bentley University with an MBA and they recently started up the Bentley Center for Women and Business. They held an event back in April called Moving from Conversation to Action. After having listened to Sandberg’s address I decided to circle back and see what had happened with that since I had not had the chance to attend live. The good news is that you can see videos of the presentations. I plan to view them and see how I can help move the ball forward.
Both Sandberg’s address and the Bentley Center for Women and Business are resources and reference points to hopefully continuing the conversation and identifying actions that will facilitate keeping women in corporate America with compromising on what they want out of life.