Why “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg Can Help You!

I have heard fellow business students speak about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In” over the past semester and knew I had to read it.  I am not sure if it is the fact that the business world is evolving and women are taking more risks, or if it is because I attend an all women’s day college, but the popularity of this book is making its mark.  I have lofty goals and know the glass ceiling still exists in many ways for women.  As soon as my semester was over, I dove into this book.  The main concept that is discussed in this book is the fact that women tend to steer clear of the table, when they should be willing to sit down, even if they are the only woman, and “lean in.”  It is necessary for women to become more involved in the business, the dialog, the negotiations, and to not fear discussing important topics.

Sandberg even goes as far as discussing the need for women to speak about their family choices such as having a baby, and to not turn down opportunities because they think their pregnancy or children will affect it.  Instead, they should determine the choice they make based on their desires.  I have seen how women limit themselves, and I am a shining example of this as I have always put others ahead of myself, until recently.  I think Sandberg makes an important point because women tend to remain silent when they should be speaking up!  It is crucial for women to know where they are going and what they want.

As more equality is found in the workplace, more fathers will need to step up, and I have seen this happening as well.  My husband is incredibly supportive, and while I can nitpick and say he is not taking on enough housework, he takes on a great deal of the work with the kids.  I assume that as I work more outside of the home, he will step up even more and take on housework.  Sandberg shows the unfortunate seclusion men face when they become the primary caregivers for their children, and this dynamic also needs to change if women are to rely on them more.  The important thing is for the dialog to continue so changes can be made.  Women need to “lean in” because their opinions and challenges matter.  Without an equal say, there cannot be an equal society.

Sandberg brings up important topics, some of which are already widely discussed, but her overall message is important to the development of women in the workforce.  There are many things I will take away from this book, but more importantly, when I find myself backing away from a situation because I am one of the only women, or I am nervous, I will “lean in.”

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Empowering Women Series: Gratitude

Today is Thanksgiving, and it carries with it the traditional aspect of giving thanks, or showing gratitude for what we have and for the people in our lives.  This is an important tool when it comes to empowering women.  It may seem like common sense that we should be thankful, but sometimes, we do not see the various ways to express gratitude or realize who we should thank.  When women become empowered, it is because they have accepted support when it was available, reached for opportunities when they were in grasp, and they developed the skills necessary to become strong, determined, knowledgeable, and confident.  As women flourish, they should express gratitude for the opportunities and support they have had because it helps them to remember where they began, and to realize there are other women that need the same support.  The expression of gratitude can lead to the act of giving.

I am a woman who was blessed with a group of family and friends who supported me.  They encouraged me, stood beside me when I made difficult decisions, and listened to me.  Without these people, I may not be where I am now.  It takes a lot of strength to rise from abuse to become confident and accomplished.  I worked hard, but it is important for me to recognize the people who guided me along the way.  I have had professors and people in my network who validated me, and pushed me harder.  These people deserve my thanks.  I have been presented with opportunities that have made a huge difference in the direction of my life.  I had to grab the opportunities, apply for them, or work for them, but the fact remains that without them being available, I would not be where I am.  Part of being empowered is the realization that success, accomplishment, etc… is a group effort.  We all gain when we give.

Three types of gratitude can help you to bolster empowerment:

1.  A simple thank you to mentors, teachers, advisors, employers, family, or friends who have helped you become strong can not only strengthen your relationship, and it can inspire them to continue helping others.

2.  When you are grateful you may be more willing to give back and help another woman rise from abuse, lack of self-esteem, or any other situation that limits her.

3.  Any connection made when networking should be recognized, and if it was from a speech, or someone who offered stimulating conversation, a thank you email can encourage a stronger connection and make them more willing to associate with more rising women.

This is only a small list, and there are so many ways to express gratitude and various reasons to do so.  The important thing is to realize we are not born skilled and ready to take on the world.  We all take various paths, but there are people and experiences that help to make us stronger.  Without recognizing this, we miss an opportunity to forge stronger relationships and to give back.

Empowering Women Series: International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  I could have posted yesterday about violence and how desperately we need to fight against the abuse that strips women and girls of their human rights.  However, I waited until today to make a point.  Violence, abuse, and inequalities plaguing women and girls lead to them living in poverty, contracting diseases, losing any chance for an education, and suffering indignities beyond comprehension.  Yet, the day recognizing this issue has past, and people who are not in this situation or working with women who have been in this situation can move on with their lives.  They thought about it, but now, they can move on until the next campaign or recognition takes place.  How does this fix the problem?

Awareness is key to finding resolutions, but if there are only certain days that this problem is brought to light, people will forget.  It is easy to forget what is not seen.  It is like the saying, “out of sight out of mind”.  The women and girls that are enduring appalling conditions right now need help.  The woman in the house down the street that hides her bruises with makeup, and looks down in the hopes people will not see her eyes where her story lies in wait, lies in wait for someone to rescue her.  She needs help right now.  The mother, sister, cousin, friend, and aunt who carry their abuse in silence need your help to reassure them their voice can and should be heard.

I was one of these women.  My first marriage was filled with physical, mental, and sexual abuse. I was forced to stay in the shadows of our apartment.  I was controlled, used, and treated as though I was nothing.  I lost every bit of self-esteem I had and I only left after my son was born because I knew he was worth more.  I did not recognize my worth at the time because that is what happens to women who are subjected to violence regularly.  I was lucky to have family who stood by me and helped me when they found out.  There are women who do not have anyone, and they are waiting for someone to find out, to help them.  I am strong now, and this is a topic I am very passionate about.  This is an issue that needs to be addressed daily because countless women are hurt daily.

When we make the world a place that is safe for women to open up about the pain and suffering they endure so they can find peace and protection, the world will become a better place.  When women are free to express themselves, get an education, and lead in their jobs and communities, their families, companies, and communities become stronger.  We need to be willing to speak up, help others, and hold the hands of those weakened by violence.  This is an international issue, but we can start in our own communities.  Support a women’s shelter, speak to abused women and offer them your strength and support, be the one who reports abuse if it is happening, and you can make a difference.

Empowering Women Series: Confidence and Assertiveness

Women have spent years being pushed down when they try to rise up.  Being assertive as a women leads to people calling you “bossy” or saying you “nag”.  These terms do more harm to the movement of empowering women, yet they continue to thrive.  If a man is assertive, he is strong and confident.  There is never any question when a man challenges a poor job offer with a negotiation.  In fact, it is expected.  Women will typically shy away from negotiating.

Whatever terms are used, the problem begins early and needs to be addressed early.  Young girls and teenagers need to know that they can do amazing things if they believe in themselves and are willing to take chances.  These girls are impressionable and with the proper influences, they can flourish.  Schools are strapped as the economy is still trying to bounce back, and this can lead to fewer resources in the schools to help push young women to succeed.  While a small percentage may have the guidance to do well and apply for college, others fall through the cracks.

At what point do we as a society say enough is enough?  When do we finally work as communities in bolstering the young populations to become leaders.  If we can reach these girls early on and provide them with opportunities in business, leadership, science, math, and medicine, we may see more young women, with a voice, ready to make a difference in the world around them, and beyond.  It takes confidence to put yourself in front of someone and to say “I have what it takes to be successful.”  I know because I struggled with this for many years.  I did not believe in myself until I was guided by the wonderful people in my family and at Cedar Crest College.  It took me longer to get to this path in my life, but once I found my inner strength, I was not letting go.  This is what we need to do, help young women find their inner strength.

We can make a difference now.  Many of you have children, are educators, or work in community outreach.  Use your influence to help the children you are connected to to find what they are passionate about.  Help them to realize their potential, and push them to excel.  You may not change the world, but you may change a life, and that person may change many lives, and the ripple effect can continue. This first step can make all the difference.

Empowering Women Series: Empowering Women Through Education

This blog post continues the Empowering Women Series by exploring the influence of education and how it can empower women.  As a woman, I have been pushed down many times in my life.  I did not fit into the mold popular girls fill in high school.  I spent most of my pre-teen and teen years trying to understand and help my mentally ill mom, and dealing with my own emotional breakdowns.  I did not value education as much as survival because I was not ready.

After high school, I realized there was a whole world out there.  I had spent so many years in my own narrow perspective and I was not as prepared to deal with life.  I made poor decisions because I had low self-esteem.  I craved love and attention, and I found it with an older man.  I married him at 18 years old.  He turned out to be abusive.  My life was contained within the tiny expanse of our apartment because he controlled me.  I will share more of this element of my life in my post on abuse this Wednesday.  I was defeated, and the only reason I left was because I valued my son’s life, not my own.

It is easy for girls to fall into the stereotypical worlds presented to them with marketing, toys, and television.  The media children are exposed to is exponentially high due to technological advancements.  While there are some improvements, and colleges tend to have more female students, there is still a lack of confidence that pervades women.  Men are more likely to be assertive and to negotiate when it comes to salary and other job perks.  Men are more likely to have mentors to teach and guide them into executive positions.  Women are more likely to be looked over for a job because they are of child-bearing age, or to be discriminated against if they are an expectant parent.  There are laws to protect women, but there are still many cases being brought forth because the playing field has not been leveled.

Education is becoming more and more critical for financial success and personal growth.  It is important for women to recognize that classes and homework are only one aspect of this education.  Achievement requires determination, and women willing to go the extra mile.  The classroom provides the knowledge, but a truly valuable education requires immersion in leadership opportunities, and networking.  I am currently attending Cedar Crest College, an all-women day college, and I have found the potential for growth is immeasurable.  This college, http://www.cedarcrest.edu/ca/index.shtm, is one that is valued for its relationship in the community, the support of donors, the recognition as a best value regional college in the north by US News & World Report, and because it empowers women.  In fact, the Women’s College Coalition website, http://womenscolleges.org/, produces encouraging statistics about the benefit women have when attending a women’s college.  I can say from my experience, Cedar Crest College has proven these statistics to me.  I am more confident, I feel ready to engage others in a career, I feel like I can lead, speak, and perform well.

Whether women choose an all-women college, or co-ed, they need to be ready to become assertive and to work hard.  Networking is crucial.  The career world still has a glass ceiling in some fields, and a gap in pay.  It is time for more women to gain the educational background, leadership experience, and drive to initiate change in the world.  From the cities and towns they live in, to the state, and federal level, women can make change.  Raise your voice, and join the cause for empowering women through education and more!

Empowering Women Series: The Truth in Numbers

I want to start this series by looking at data to determine where the weaknesses lie for women around the world, and specifically, in The United States. To empower women, we have to figure out how the structures of society, the marketing strategies, the government and private businesses, and perceptions weaken them. We cannot begin to fix a problem without understanding it. Moreover, even when we do understand it, we can only fix it one step at a time. The process for change is usually a long one, but with attention, the steps become larger, and the number of people involved in implementing change grows. Many organizations release campaigns as a catalyst for transformation, and one, which was recently brought about at the UN, is called HeforShe. If you have not seen the incredibly moving speech presented by Emma Watson, I have provided it for you.


What we need to understand is that women and young girls are typically brought up to see the world in a certain way, to embrace emotion instead of toughen up, to be weak, to not argue, and to do what we are told. The list continues. Boys are taught to be assertive, to be strong, to not cry, and so much more. We are all capable of the same things, with a few exceptions; yet, we force ourselves, and our children into specific roles, which could ultimately hinder us from becoming successful. If girls cannot grow up as assertive, how can they forge their way into a position as president? If boys cannot express emotion, how can they connect with patients as a therapist?
What does the data say? When studying the world overall, the website for The UN Women, looking at available data, finds that “Between 15 and 76 percent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime” (UN Women, 2012). These numbers vary greatly across countries because the underdeveloped countries see more violence against women. We know young women are at a higher risk of being assaulted, but the numbers are staggering, “Worldwide, up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16” (UN Women, 2012). There are girls suffering from genitalia mutilation, and, as seen with the current crisis in the middle east, marriage and assault for girls as young as age 7. Human trafficking, which has found its way into even highly developed countries, has become an extremely profitable industry.
What these numbers show us is that violence is prevalent against women, and this creates an element of fear. If women are treated as objects, not provided an education, and expected to conform to inequality, how can they rise to fight or even know they have something to fight for?

The United States

          While we are free from much of this in The United States, there is still a high level of assault and abuse, sexual harassment, and inequality in the workforce. While The United States celebrates a society built on principles of equality, the numbers show otherwise. Women are finding their way to the top, but not in the numbers that should be expected.
In The United States, according to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in four women will suffer from domestic violence in their lifetime (2007). Even more alarming, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (Rainn) reports “an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes” (2009). These numbers show how much abuse and assault against women is a part of our society, and it does not even address child abuse or emotional abuse. With statistics like this, it is easy to see how so many women still do not speak up in a job when it could lead to promotion, or how women may feel intimidated in a board room full of men.
What do employment statistics show for women in The United States? According to Employment Law for Business, while “47%, nearly half of the workforce, is female…women earn 75% as much as men at all levels of educational attainment” (Bennett-Alexander & Hartman, 2012, pp 344). We know that more than half of college students are women, yet, “3 to 5 percent of top managers are women” (Bennett-Alexander & Hartman, 2012. pp 347). These statistics are alarming, and something needs to change. There are various opinions on why women make less, and why fewer women hold top executive positions, and we will begin to explore this from an educational perspective tomorrow. If you would like to see me add something to this discussion, please comment, and please feel free to join in and discuss this important issue in the comments.

References

Bennett-Alexander, D. D., Hartman, L. P., (2012). Employment Law for Business. New York:McGraw-Hill. Print.
RAINN, (2009). Statistics. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Retrieved From https://www.rainn.org/statistics
UN Women, (2012). Fast facts: statistics on violence against women and girls. UN Women. Retrieved From http://www.endvawnow.org/en/articles/299-fast-facts-statistics-on-violence-against-women-and-girls-.html