Category Archives: culture

Lean In: my takeaways

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Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg is the ‘It’ book for women right now. I like to think of myself as a hip person (which is obviously not true since I just used the word “hip”) so I had to read it. Ok, I actually read it because my curiosity was piqued by the range of reviews – it’s great, it’s bad, it blames women too much, it is too idealistic, etc, etc, etc.   

My high-level review of the book is that I would give it 5 stars as an introduction to a topic that requires more depth. Sandberg keeps it high level and shies away from getting more specific about how women can really “lean in”.  What I’m hoping is this book is just a starting point for a more detailed discussion about women in the workplace.  The two most important points of the book for me were that: you still have to pursue the opportunity and women are too hard on each other (this isn’t a new learning for me, but it is always a good reminder to work against this phenomenon).

 

Connections are important, but you still have to do the work and pursue the opportunity.

It is easy to dismiss Sandberg’s success and, therefore, her advice because 99.9% of women can’t relate to her life. She is COO of Facebook and probably makes more money in one year than the average reader makes in 10 years. (sidenote: I just looked it up – her salary + bonus is probably 10x, but her stock options are akin to winning the lottery)  She has ‘made it’ – and she did so with an Ivy League education and a lot of connections along the way (seriously, who works at the White House while they are still in High School?!).

The reality is these are not good reasons to dismiss her advice.  She is where she is today because she was willing to leverage those connections and, most importantly, to put in the hard work along the way. Her connections and education opened the doors, but she still had to come up with the ideas and do the work that made her successful.  Networking and connections are very important, which I talked about in my last post (way back in February — don’t judge, I’ve been busy!).  But, they are like a resume. They will get you an interview and maybe a job, but they won’t make you good at the job. That is up to you.

I think the more important point she makes in this part of the book is that women tend to make career decisions in anticipation of future events, rather than waiting to see how events unfold. You need to build a good, authentic network and work hard, but first you have to be willing to even pursue the new opportunities. Women have the tendency to go for roles they believe will fit better with married life or family life. She provides an example where one female was worried about this before she had even had a boyfriend! The point she makes is: don’t limit yourself based on assumptions of what it will be like, because you don’t actually know until you try. I’ve worked with some amazing women leaders who also balance a family. It is hard and requires a lot of support from their husbands and family, but they make it work.   

 

Women need to stop being so hard on each other.

This is so true. This topic is worthy of having its very own chapter in the book. Sandberg covers two main competitions between women: as rivals in the workplace and the mommy wars.

In the first part of the chapter, Sandberg discusses and gives examples of women who undercut each other because they think there is only room for one of them to move up the ladder. I can honestly say I haven’t experienced this kind of female rivalry in the workplace. This could be due to the fact that, up until last month, I worked in a very male dominated function or because I tend to seek out people who have a more positive attitude. I don’t want to dismiss her examples because I’m sure this is true in some environments, but I’d say the rivalry for promotions is not gender specific.  

In the second half of the chapter, Sandberg discusses the divide between mothers who work outside the home and mothers who work inside the home. Once a day, I can count on an article in my Facebook news feed making one of these points: I’m not a bad mom for working outside the home, working inside the home doesn’t mean I just sit on the couch all day, people without kids don’t understand my life as a parent, and people with kids judge my decision not to have kids and don’t take my life seriously. If there isn’t judgment being passed about work choices, then it’s parenting decisions. I’m quite frankly amazed that we don’t have more criminals among us because that is obviously what the wrong sleep strategy or food regimen will create.

I’ll add a third group to what Sandberg discusses: females who aren’t mothers. I don’t have kids, but I have experienced the mommy wars. These are some of the most memorable comments I’ve received personally – “you want someone else to raise your kids so you’ll send them to daycare”, “it’s a fact that kids with two working parents just don’t turn out to be good kids.”, “you will change your mind about your career when you have kids.” Keep in mind that I don’t even have kids and people already have opinions about my parenting decisions that I haven’t even made… because, like I said, I don’t actually have kids (but I do want kids, if that counts). I’m sure these people believe they’re somehow preparing me for parenthood or giving me a different perspective to consider (or they really are just preemptively calling me a bad parent… who knows). 

To tie my tangent back to Lean In, Sandberg concludes the chapter by suggesting that women take life decisions made by other women too personally. I know this well and I’m sure there are a lot more women out there nodding their heads in agreement now. If a woman decides to work at home, it isn’t a reflection of what she thinks about the mom who works outside the home (or vice-versa). If a woman is happy being really good at her job, rather than striving for a CEO position, that decision should be supported and appreciated. The general message is this: rather than finding fault with one another, why don’t we seek to learn from the strengths of one another?

 

In summary… 

I suggest this book to everyone. Although it is a women’s leadership book, it transcends business and women. The ideas of being present, not being afraid to contribute ideas, and working together to make each other stronger are not gender-specific or business-only lessons. It is a quick and light read, but it forces you to ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I holding myself back because I’m making too many assumptions about what will happen? (just try it and see what happens!)
  • Am I contributing my ideas?
  • Am I building constructive, rather than destructive, relationships in my career and life?

How can Millennials shape America’s future?

There are a lot of articles written about Millennials (also known as Gen Y).  It seems like they are either the worst generation because they are lazy, selfish, and expect too much; or, they are the best generation because they are tech-savvy, entrepreneurial and socially conscious.  What I’m really interested in is this: how can this generation productively shape the future? How can the good (and even the bad) of this generation be used to advance our society?

Since I’m right on the cusp, I can never remember whether I am X or Y so I spent a little time researching the birth years. It’s like the Internet could read my mind because I stumbled upon a quiz titled ‘How Millennial are you?’. I scored 52, which apparently means I’m an average Millennial.  Since I wasn’t tech-savvy enough to figure out what 52 means, I seriously question if I’m very Millennial at all.  I considered this week victorious because I figured out how to schedule my tweets via Hootsuite today… three years after forming my Twitter account.  Yep, I’m a little behind my peers.

Anyway, back on track.  The definition of what birth years make up each generation differs based on organization.  This is how Pew Research Center classifies each generation:

  • Silent: 1928 – 1945
  • Baby Boomer: 1946 – 1964
  • Gen X: 1965 – 1980
  • Gen Y/Millennial: 1981 +  (they list ‘+’ on their website, but it’s generally accepted that it extends through 2000)

The typical Millennial is considered tech-savvy, team-oriented and socially conscious.  According to the Ivey Business Journal, 70% say giving back and being civically engaged is one of their highest priorities. This is an area where I am strongly Millennial. I have worked at companies that were genuinely involved in their community, and I have worked for a company where my boss told me to take a vacation day if I wanted to participate in the Habitat for Humanity company event. It is important to me to work for a company, and to some extent a boss, with values that align closely to mine.

The less desirable traits associated with Millennials are: they seek instant gratification, have short attention spans, are demanding, and are too comfortable sharing (I am definitely a ‘sharer’). Their use of social media typically leads them to have two personalities – an online persona and a real-life persona. It can be easier to express themselves in writing than verbally so their online persona is typically more expressive and witty.  (So that’s why online dating profiles don’t usually match up with the person in real life!)  This reliance on technology can make it difficult to close generational gaps with coworkers because older generations, like the Baby Boomers, are typically more comfortable with face-to-face interaction.

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By 2020, Millennials will make up 40-50% of our workforce. What does this mean?  How can this generation shape our future?

Millennials can help close our technical skill gap.

The US has a labor shortage for jobs requiring technical skills. We will face a shortage of 224,000 hi-tech workers by 2018. These are the kinds of jobs we need in the US to invent or develop products that employ thousands of people to manufacture, market and support the product.

Even though Millennials have a low % of student enrolled in STEM programs, they are the most well-educated generation, they are tech-savvy, and entrepreneurial.  These three characteristics will help us continue to innovate.  I will write a post separate post at some point about the importance of students enrolling in STEM programs.  I agree there are risks associated with having low involvement in STEM programs, but I believe other characteristics of Millennials will help us mitigate some of the risks. Mark Zuckerberg is the perfect Millennial example of a tech-savvy entrepreneur who came up with an innovative new product.

Companies will need to become more socially responsible to attract top talent.

Millennials are demanding, socially-conscious, and will make up half the workforce in less than 10 years. This is the ‘everyone wins a trophy’ generation, which isn’t necessarily bad because they are a group of people who feel personally responsible for making their community a better place. There are a lot of companies that already prioritize corporate citizenship. One of my former employers allowed employees up to five days of each year to volunteer, which was in addition to the many volunteer activities offered at work during the year. Millennials will drive this to be the majority of businesses (maybe not this specific policy, but you know what I mean… hopefully).

The workplace will become more flexible.

Millennials want flexible work hours.  Obviously, this will happen within reason.  Companies will still need to ensure people are available when customers need them.  However, what this could mean is location of work becomes more flexible.  Telecommuting increased 61% in the US between 2005 and 2009 and it continues to increase.

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Each generation has probably changed the workplace significantly in their own way. The interesting situation with this generation is technology is advancing at a very fast rate. It is now easier and cheaper than ever to find ways to be your own boss. Many Millennials are underemployed or unemployed because they don’t have the experience required to get a job in their field.

We will need to overcome the short attention spans and need for instant gratification if we truly want to achieve our full potential, but overall I am optimistic about how this generation can shape our future. The combination of a creative, tech-savvy group of people who need to make a living could lead to some interesting developments over the next few years.

Your thoughts and comments about the generations are appreciated.  

Don’t let your energy get zapped

(originally posted April 11, 2012 on my former blog)

This past week, I finished reading The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon. I’ve been reading for 20-30 minutes before I go to bed. I read somewhere (Prevention magazine, maybe?) that reading before bed helps you sleep better and I’m a terrible sleeper. So the reading thing is really just killing two birds with one stone. So far, it has helped… but I was also very exhausted last week so I don’t know if I can declare the bedtime reading a success yet. I heard eliminating coffee helps too, but I’m not crazy enough ready to go down that road yet.

I thought The Energy Bus was corny, but very effective in delivering a clear message.  The author uses a fictional story to describe the Ten Rules for the Ride of Your Life.  The main character is George, a guy who is having serious marriage troubles, is on the verge of losing his job, and (to top it all off!) his car just broke down for two weeks.  I liked the book and suggest it to anyone looking for a quick read and reminder that mindset can really shape our lives.

TEN RULES FOR THE RIDE OF YOUR LIFE

  1. You’re the driver of your bus.
  2. Desire, vision, and focus move your bus in the right direction.
  3. Fuel your ride with positive energy.
  4. Invite people on your bus and share your vision for the road ahead.
  5. Don’t waste your energy on those who don’t get on your bus.
  6. Post a sign that says NO ENERGY VAMPIRES ALLOWED on your bus.
  7. Enthusiasm attracts more passengers and energizes them during the ride.
  8. Love your passengers.
  9. Drive with purpose.
  10. Have fun and enjoy the ride.

I think this book applies to all aspects of your life.  I identified with the importance of maintaining your own positive outlook, but also with not letting other people bring you down.  The author calls these people “Energy Vampires”.  We all know people like this, or maybe are or have been people like this.  These are the people who focus on the negative side of life.  My personal opinion is these people can be grouped into a few categories:

  • The trash talkers.  We all have days or periods where other people seriously bug us  and need to vent.  But, these are the people who spend 75% of their time talking about other people, or let specific people really get to them.
  • The people who cut everyone else down.  I think this comes in two forms: cutting people down and being unsupportive.  The unsupportive people can’t be happy for their friends or family because they take other people’s triumphs personally (that is my nice way of saying they are probably jealous, even if it really has nothing to do with them).
  • The victims of life.  These are the people who feel like they’ve just been dealt so many more challenges than everyone else, and the rest of us are living in a land of rainbows and unicorns.  I’m sure we could find a couple of these people by scrolling through our facebook News Feed.  Sure, it’s OK to feel bad for yourself occasionally (because sometimes there is such a thing as bad luck) but we all have challenges.  Some are very visible and some are very private.  Don’t compare your challenges because you don’t know what people are going through now, have been through, or will go through at some point in their life.

I’ve known more than a few people like this in my life, as I’m sure we all have.  I find these people to be extremely draining.  The book suggests telling people flat out that you won’t allow negativity on your bus.  I think the idea of saying “on my bus” is corny, but the overall message is good — don’t let these people play a major role in your life.  Their negativity will be draining on you over time.

Sometimes it isn’t possible to cut out coworkers or family that are “Energy Vampires”.  In this case, I strive not to contribute to the negativity (sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I’m not).  If someone is constantly talking poorly about someone else or complaining, I give them a few minutes to vent and then try to change the subject or offer a positive comment.  If that doesn’t work, I usually leave the conversation by physically leaving the room or distracting myself with something else. 

 Obviously this book brought out some very strong opinions in me.  It was a nice reminder to focus my energy on what produces good things in my life.  Sometimes that can be very hard, but I’d say I am a positive person about 85% of the time.  There will always be people in life who try to bring us down.  The key is to recognize that and don’t let it drain your energy. 

One week ago today, history was made

Photo courtesy of the Gay Rights Facebook page

Last week, voters approved gay marriage and rejected a constitutional ban on gay marriage for the first time in American history. I was proud to be an American and especially proud to be a Minnesotan. To be part of such an important moment in our nation’s history was a rush of emotions – excitement, pride, and even a little bit of disbelief. (I was so happy that I cried on my drive to work Wednesday morning when it finally sunk in that, yes, that really just happened.)

I’ve been asked a few times why this is so important to me since I’m not gay. I think people have asked me that because I’ve been very outspoken about the topic. The best way I can describe the reason I’m so outspoken is by sharing Martin Niemoller’s famous quote:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t support gay marriage or even believed that civil unions would be an acceptable substitute. In college, I had to take three Theology classes. I chose Christian Marriage for my final class during my 2004 Spring Semester. It was only natural that gay marriage came up as a topic and I was one of only a few students who argued that gays should be allowed to marry (however, there were many more supporters of civil unions but I’ve never been a fan of the “separate, but equal” logic).

Earlier this year, I reflected back on that class and realized my voice had softened since 2004. I still strongly believed in marriage equality but I was much more silent on the topic. I didn’t want to rock the boat or make people uncomfortable. I knew I wouldn’t feel good about myself if Minnesota passed a ban on gay marriage and I was idle about my opinions. I wouldn’t be able to look my friends and family who would be personally impacted by this amendment in the eyes if I didn’t speak up. So, that’s how I became the person who isn’t shy about sharing my belief.

What’s more important, though, is why I believe so strongly. Some of these points are supportive of gay marriage and some of them are my rebuttal to reasons people have given me against gay marriage (you might think I’m kidding with some of them, but I’m not):

Not allowing gays to marry is discrimination. Being gay is not a choice and there is no compelling evidence to support that it is a choice. Denying this group of people the same legal rights as people who are born heterosexual is discrimination. This is probably the most important reason why I support gay marriage.

It is not a slippery slope to polygamy. First, polygamy means one man with multiple wives, one woman with multiple husbands, or group marriage. Therefore, opposite-sex marriage is probably a more likely slippery slope (“if we let him marry one wife, pretty soon he’ll want to marry two or three!”). Second, marriage is intended as a way for a monogamous couple to legally commit to each other so they can enjoy many legal rights together throughout their lifetime. If society decides to debate whether the definition should be monogamous or polygamous, it won’t be due to gay marriage.

“God intended it this way” is not a strong enough argument. It violates the separation of church & state, not all churches even agree on that point and, if He intended marriage to be a certain way, interracial couples still wouldn’t be allowed to marry. It is the same argument that was used by people who didn’t believe interracial couples should be allowed to marry:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” – Leon Bazile, Trial Judge in Loving v. Virginia (1959)

Supporting gay marriage supports our troops. We have gay men and women in our Armed Forces and their committed partners deserve the same benefits as the wives or husbands of our heterosexual troops. Our troops sacrifice their lives for our country, they should be allowed the same rights as everyone else. This veteran and Republican politician provides a compelling argument about why it supports our troops:

Gays don’t cause hurricanes or floods. Yes, I was actually told that “We have to repent for our sins. God has flooded many cities because of gay people”. I didn’t respond because I didn’t even know what to say. It was right after Hurricane Sandy so I thought it was a highly inappropriate time to state this argument. If you’re wondering how gays cause hurricanes, here is a quick explanation:

Courtesy of Google.

Ok, all kidding aside, these are pictures of devastation from Hurricane Sandy to provide perspective on the seriousness of saying God floods cities because of gay people. Do you think God would inflict this kind of damage and destruction into people’s lives because He created gay people and has since decided to punish the world because He thinks being gay is a sin? I hope not. I will be really disappointed in Him if I get to the pearly white gates and it turns out to be true. I’ll probably self-deport back to Earth.

Courtesy of Google

Courtesy of Google

Courtesy of Google

Courtesy of Google… and I seriously love the caption this person put on this picture

The fact that all four popular votes resulted in supporting marriage equality was an important tipping point for our country. There were two other significant successes this year when the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was ruled unconstitutional in Boston and again in New York, but last week was more important because the American citizens delivered the final decision with their votes. Previously, anti-gay marriage supporters dismissed the movement as being led by activist judges and legislators. I am not naive enough to think the change will be quick but I think we’re on the right path.

I welcome any additional points about gay marriage in the comments section. I know this can be a highly emotional topic for some people. All viewpoints are appreciated as long as they are respectfully stated.