By Anne Merrick, Friday, July 27, 2012, at 8:59 am.
Some of you blog loyalists out there might remember my excitement at the prospect of working with so many talented women this summer, and that has indeed been one of the highlights of this job. In the United States, female leadership averages about 16 percent in every sector across the board. I had just finished my senior thesis about the dearth of female leaders in this country, so I was geekily interested in observing what made female leaders in general the exception, and what put some of them in the 16 percent.
In a December 2011 TED talk, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that of the graduating seniors entering the workforce for the first time, 57 percent of young men negotiated their first salary. Seven percent of young women did this.
I thought this very interesting as a young person on the brink of entering the working world. My female peers are, generally speaking, both unaware of their own worth and unwilling to assert it. Attribute it to whatever you’d like, but women across the board are not comfortable with their own talent and abilities. In her TED talk, Sandberg goes on to cite how women, much more than men, underestimate their IQs, downplay their GPAs and attribute their success to others rather than their own “awesomeness.” At the heart of this, she determines, is that success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. It seems to me that in a world where women are literally pulled in so many directions, the only way to manage all this is by drawing lines in the sand, deciding who you are and unapologetically being that person.
The superwoman stereotype is perhaps the most damning of all, and it’s where a lot of these attitudes can be derived. It encompasses all areas of a woman’s life, sets the highest standards for everything from homemaking to professional success to body image, and consequently makes it impossible for her not to fail. Anne-Marie Slaughter poignantly and passionately addresses “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in a six-page op-ed in this month’s Atlantic. She diverges and even openly disagrees with Sandberg on critical points, but she claims it is impossible to “have it all” at the same time. With Slaughter’s and Sandberg’s arguments in mind, women must stop spinning this narrative because it is just that: a narrative. Women must stop actually believing that they can have it all, must stop participating in it and, most critically, must stop projecting to other women that they are actually succeeding at it.
We have to stop being terrified of making choices, of saying no, of drawing clear lines and defining ourselves, because that is how we grow and actually begin to have it all, in the real, human sense. It is how we fill C-suite offices and how we truly liberate ourselves from manufactured and unchallenged archetypes of female happiness and success. It’s how we make room for ourselves, our daughters and our daughters’ daughters as CEOs, tenured professors, heads of surgery, managing partners, etc. And inconsequential as they might seem, every preface to a comment with “This might be really stupid, but…” or apologizing unnecessarily during a brainstorming session perpetuates these attitudes and reinforces that 16 percent.
At the beginning of my summer at @erwwpr, I made a conscious decision to be a sponge. I try to take in every last detail and habit of those older, more talented and more successful than I am. I observe them and watch how they balance their lives and schedules, how they handle themselves in meetings, how they treat their colleagues. The women here, truly PR professionals, are sharp, talented and poised. And as the summer comes to an end, I am preparing to wring myself out, grateful and appreciative to move on with the bits and pieces that complement me and that hopefully will contribute to my growing that 16 percent.
This entry was posted on Friday, July 27th, 2012 at 8:59 am. It is filed under Features, Insights, One Young House, PR and tagged with @erwwpr, Anne-Marie Slaughter, assertiveness, balance, C-suite, drawing clear lines, female leaders, female leadership, having it all, intern, internship, leadership, likability, salary negotiations, saying no, Sheryl Sandberg, success, superwoman stereotype, TED, The Atlantic, women. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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