It’s no lie that women have a long road ahead to achieve equality in the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics published figures in January that looked at weekly earnings of women versus men and found that women earn 83% of what men are paid.
If you’re a woman or you know a woman looking for work, this is important information to know and understand.
Earlier this year Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, published Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. In her book and through her work at LeanIn.org she encourages men and women to engage in a public debate about gender bias in the workforce.
Here are three lessons from Sandberg you need to consider for yourself, your mother, your daughter, or any woman looking for work:
The way we speak about women matters
“When little girls lead, they’re called bossy and, over time, children internalize these messages. Women who lead are disliked and often referred to as being ‘aggressive’, but this isn’t the fault of women or men, it’s the message that’s interpreted by a collective society over a long period.
“Next time you want to call your daughter bossy, take a deep breath and say, ‘My daughter has executive leadership skills.’”
When I read this quote by Sandberg, I couldn’t help but relate. At an early age, I was called bossy. If only I had been armed with this knowledge. “No, I just have executive leadership skills,” I could have said in defense of my innate abilities.
My bossy childhood tendencies have helped to make me a successful professional but labeling leadership as a negative for young girls can have life-long consequences of self-doubt and insecurity.
Encourage leadership, decisiveness, and accountability but teach compassion. Don’t discourage a child’s innate ability or a woman’s tendency to be a great leader. Talk about the wisdom of compassionate leaders instead.
The way we speak to women and girls makes a difference
Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World encourages us to bite our tongues when we feel inclined to tell young girls “how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.”
Instead, she encourages us to, “try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she’s reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain.”
Not only do we need to be thoughtful about the way we talk to little girls, we also need to be aware of our tendencies to put down other women. Competition among women can be fierce. It’s important to lay down our weapons and help one another achieve equality in the work force and on a global scale.
It’s also equally crucial that bosses work to include a woman and value her opinion.
One day, sitting at a business meeting with two men and my boss, Mac Prichard, I became acutely aware of the fact that neither of the other men saw me as an important decision maker. I told my boss about my experience and he made a strong effort to include me in a more prominent way in future meetings.
Change the way you speak about yourself
It’s common to think that women apologize more than men. This is the wrong approach to our careers. As Amanda Hess at Slate.com argues:
“I don’t think the solution is to instruct a select group of ladyblog readers to man up. For one thing, it’s not that simple—some salary negotiation experts now instruct women to talk like ladies while they ask for a man’s salary. It’s not the ‘sorry’ that’s the problem. It’s the sexism.”
Either way, trust your instincts, don’t compromise what you feel you deserve, and don’t back down from negotiating your needs. I sure don’t. Ask my boss.
Own your greatness, your strengths, and your talents. If insecurity creeps in, beat it back and remind yourself that you’ve got this. As Maya Angelou says, imagine every female ancestor, friend or mentor you ever had standing behind you. Imagine me standing behind you.
Whatever it takes, stand up for yourself in a wise, compassionate, assertive way and all women everywhere will benefit from your strength. Don’t apologize for it unless you truly did something wrong.