Dear Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Anne-Marie Slaughter and even Susan Patton:
Each of you is “right.” Whether it’s: “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” (Slaughter, who returned to a manageable professor life at Princeton after a stint in foreign policy at the State Department); the importance of “leaning in” to your career and taking a seat at the table (Sandberg, COO of Facebook on the importance of speaking up); eliminating tele-commuters (Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and new mother, who recognized that innovation occurs at a central location; productivity works for telecommuting, but less so for innovation); or encouraging Princeton women students to find a husband while in college (Patton, professional, mother and Princeton grad). Perhaps each of you is trying to say something similar? Let me sum it up the way my mom does: YOU DO WHAT YOU DO. Yes. Just like that. YOU DO WHAT YOU DO. In other words, we all make choices.
Over the last few years I have really tried to grasp the whole working mom thing. Every mother – parent for that matter – is trying his or her best. Make your decisions and make them with confidence! Perhaps I am an anomaly? I have played sports my entire life. I competed with boys and men at a time when many girls and women weren’t into sports..so perhaps I had a confidence that most women didn’t have? I have never felt slighted by men. I’ve always chosen to speak up when I thought it necessary, lean in at the table when I wanted to lean in, and request a promotion/raise when I deemed it earned. I’ve never had a problem rolling up my sleeves to make cold calls, knock on doors to sell, or simply “put myself out there”..because I believe in myself. Moreover, I’ll do whatever it takes to go the extra mile.
I struggle with the same balance that every mother struggles with: what is the right blend of work and family? I’ve worked full-time, part-time, corporate HQ, telecommute, Fortune 1000, ecommerce Kleiner-Perkins funded digital-startup, WAHM, etc. I had my first child ten days after being graduated from business school, worked full-time until my fourth, left for a while and had a fifth. I returned a few years ago to a job that on paper was “below” my qualifications. Why? Because it was a fast growing company in ecommerce and the potential for personal and professional growth in a rapidly scaling industry and the company was amazing (my employer was competing against Groupon.) I chose not to worry about career level but rather focus on potential experience to be gained and value to be added. As Eric Schmidt had told Sheryl before she took the Google job,”When companies grow quickly there are more things to do than there are people to do them.” Very true. And today? I’ve shifted, and have founded my own small start-up which I’ll manage on my own schedule. I am on the “career jungle gym”, not the linear corporate ladder (a reference to Fortune’s Patricia Sellers who said, “Think of your career as a jungle gym, sharpen your peripheral vision, and look for opportunities all around.”); With five kids (all athletes) in four schools – I am just like any other mom in the world: trying to figure it out.
Let’s take it one step further: How about we women DO WHAT WE DO and then take a line from most men’s playbook: DO NOT ASK FOR PERMISSION rather ASK FOR FORGIVENESS. Perhaps that’s what each of the aforementioned formidable women is trying to say? DO WHAT YOU DO..WITH CONFIDENCE! It’s what Marissa Mayer did when she changed the option of a remote workforce for Yahoo: she’s doing what she’s doing with confidence. She thinks it’s the right thing for Yahoo. (For what it’s worth, I must agree with her: she is trying to turn around a sinking ship and needs innovation.) It’s what Sheryl Sandberg is doing by speaking up and encouraging women to “lean in” to career advancement and not “leave before you leave.” She’s doing what she thinks is the right thing and using her power with confidence to remind women to speak up and lean into their careers. (For what it’s worth, I think it is brave of Sheryl to speak up; I reluctantly read her book and was pleasantly surprised by the nuggets of raw truths she was willing to share with the reader.) It’s what Anne-Marie Slaughter did by going back to Princeton as a professor of politics and international affairs: she’s doing what she’s doing with confidence – doing it HER way. (For what it’s worth, I have two daughters, one of whom happens to be at Princeton; I found Anne-Marie’s article to be brave and spot-on: we make choices in life.) And lastly, Susan Patton is doing what she’s doing: speaking up to the young women at Princeton. Maybe I do not agree with her but I commend her for DOING WHAT SHE’S DOING and NOT ASKING FOR PERMISSION..but forgiveness. (For the record, I do not agree at all with Patton but commend her for speaking up. With CONFIDENCE!)