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Just Judy: We need more strong female leaders in business

Sheryl Sandberg wants more women leaders in the world.  In a profile not long ago, The New York Times described the former Google exec as Mark Zuckerberg’s “most valuable friend,” and said she is “known for her interpersonal skills as much as for her sharp intellect.”

As Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer and one of the most powerful women in the world, Sandberg is one of the select group of upper-level female executives. Even in the younger Web 2.0 crowd she’s a part of, zero women sit on the boards of Twitter, Facebook, Zynga, Groupon and Foursquare.

This top female executive was doing a deal in an NYC private equity office when she had to take a bathroom break. Except no one knew where the women’s bathroom was, because no one had ever asked for it.

Sheryl Sandberg told that story recently in an amazing TED talk called “Why we have too few women leaders”,  during which she explains what she thinks is going on, and how it can be fixed.

In a grim but true tale Sandberg gave out some statistics highlighting the problem. Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world. Of 190 Heads of State around the world, only 9 are women.  In the corporate world only 15% of the top leadership positions are held by women. The nonprofit sector, an area seen to be more favorable to women, has only 20% of them in the top spots.

Women make up 50% of the population.  Why are so few women making it to the top?  There are a many reason but Sandberg believes the best way to make change is is figure out what we can do as individuals: what do we tell ourselves, the people who work with and for us, what do we tell our daughters? She then outlined three ways she thinks we can do this.

1. Sit at the Table

This means literally and figuratively sitting at the table with the men. Women systematically underestimate there own abilities and do not negotiate for themselves in the workforce.  Men attribute their success to themselves while women will attribute their success to external factors.  The thing is, no one gets to the corner office by sitting on the sidelines.

The harder part of the story is that success isn’t easy for women. Once women do reach the top they pay a higher price for that position than men do.

Success and like-ability are positivity correlated for men and on the reverse side negatively correlated for women. Sandberg pointed to a case study done by Professor Frank Flynn at Columbia Business School known as The Heidi/Howard Roizen Study.

The study describes the work of a powerful, prudent and well-connected venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. When MBA students are presented with Heidi, they routinely characterize her as ruthless, cruel and self-centered. Rename her Howard, though, and things change: Both male and female MBA students give Howard top marks as a savvy star-maker — even though Heidi and Howard are identical but for their names.

The hardest part of taking a seat at the table is knowing that if you do it, or tell your daughter to do it, in this world there will be sacrifices to make. Sacrifices our brother’s won’t make.

2. Make your partner a real partner.

In an average married dual working household with one child women do twice the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare. This means that the woman has three jobs and the man has one. Is it a surprise who drops out when someone need to be home more?

There are a lot of benefits to making your partner and equal partner. Households with equal earning and equal responsibilities have half the divorce rate and also report to have a better sex life. In 2006, a survey of 360 married men found that men who did more chores at home fared much better in the bedroom. “The more satisfied a wife is with the division of household duties, the more satisfied a man is with his marital sex life,” according to the survey. These married men reported that when wives were happier with their husband’s household work, the frequency of sex was also higher. And, confounding many skeptics, the survey found that “the more hours a woman works at the job, the more sex she has at home.”

3. Don’t leave before you leave.

This has to do with women not just dropping out of the workforce, but starting to count themselves out of competition way to early. Often, women start “leaning back” in the workplace when they are first thinking about having a child. What happens when women start quietly leaning back?

Women are not putting themselves up for promotions, taking on the big jobs, or risking as much at work for fear of letting others down when the time comes for them to take maternity leave. The truth is, if you are going to come back to work after having a child, you better love your job. You are more likely to love that job if you put everything into everyday you were working and are playing at the top of your game.

Holding back keeps women in lower level positions where they are likely to get bored, not likely to be challenged, and more likely to drop out later. The advice Sandberg gives is to stay in the game every single minute until you are ready to leave and come back loving the job you left.

Conclusion

I agree with Sandberg on all three points she outlined in her TED talk. As a woman who has been in leadership positions for a number of years now I have experienced sitting at the table, not being liked for my success, making my partner a real one, and watching women drop out. I also know what she says is true, we are not going to catch up in our generation to having equal numbers of men and women in leadership positions, but we can hope that things will change in the future.

The hardest part is what advice to give my daughter. I want my daughter not just to succeed but to be liked for her accomplishments. Hopefully with time and as more women leaders emerge the negative image of powerful women will become a thing of the past.

This post was written byJudy Grundstrom and originally published on theJustJudy blog. Follow her on Twitter: @justjudycreate

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