Are Women Sabotaging Their Own Careers?

I hope that you’ve heard about this “controversy” that was started by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and a Director at Disney, who wrote the book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The basic premise of the book is that women are to blame for their lack of career advancement. According to Sheryl, women are their own worst enemies when it comes to their careers because we don’t “lean forward.” I liken that to saying that we are not assertive.

Watch the video below and come back for a discussion.

Two years ago a felt compelled to write the article entitled I’m Not That Kind of Girl, But I Should Be about the wage gap and why women are not making as much money as men. Since then, I’ve worked in HR with access to salary and review information for hundreds of people. What I sometimes saw angered me because I saw firsthand that the wage gap was a real phenomenon.

There are a number of factors contributing to this, but some of it does involve perceptions of management, familial responsibilities and women’s sense of self worth. I have seen women doing the very same jobs as their male counterparts with just as much experience being paid thousands of dollars less. I’ve tried coaching one particular woman who I admired and respected into not just accepting whatever raise was given to her, but instead making the case for why she deserved a higher raise. Her response was that she needed the job and didn’t want to upset her boss. I wanted to bang my head on the wall because she was leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table, but I also understood her fear.

On the other hand, I have seen women who have demanded what they deserved. The problem is that these ladies sometimes developed the reputation of being “difficult” or even “bitchy”. Those aren’t my words, they were the words of their colleagues.

So, how do we strike a balance? In some respects Sheryl is right: we do have to put ourselves forward to advance within our careers. On the other hand, it is a very easy thing to say when you are a Harvard educated billionaire with access to resources that many other women do not have.

Ladies, how do you feel about Sheryl’s assertions?

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9 thoughts on “Are Women Sabotaging Their Own Careers?

  • Although I am a male, I believe men and women do a great job of sabotaging themselves. Sheryl did not always have a Harvard degree, yet she excelled and performed. There are a lot of things contributing to the issue, however some women seem to create additional obstacles. I think she is trying to encourage women venture out of their comfort zone. I encourage my daughter all the time and she is successful.

    • I think that part of the issue is that girls are traditionally taught to be demure. That doesn’t translate well in the business world. Our daughters have to be taught from the very beginning that they too have a shot at being President and they can possibly have a family and a successful career. But make no mistake, it is incredibly difficult to do BOTH without a spouse who is also willing to sacrifice as well. Your reproductive years are also the same years when you need to grow your career. It’s hard.

    • I totally agree krantcents – I think we are all capable of sabotaging ourselves. I also really liked Sandberg’s interview in Time – I thought that was a great piece and echoed a lot of what this post was about. I’m all for any group creating a community around positive role models to empower and help in foster economic activity 🙂

  • I can understand her point about needing to “lean in” but what if we don’t want to?

    I “leaned in” with my first child and was exhausted and sick for 5 months straight. And that’s with a dedicated and helpful spouse.

    I’m trying to “lean back” with my 2nd (working PT) but my company is resisting (they keep giving me more work!) I understand that I *should* be climbing the ladder. Instead, I’m showing that you can be a mother of young children and get work done. I am working PT with a flexible schedule but am still getting a FT job done. Hopefully it makes people think more favorably of mothers in the workplace.

  • Find the workplace where mom or dad can EASILY leave when jr is sick? Tell me what happens when jr is sick and mom or dad has to call off work?

    So mom and dad put career first. They keep Jr at day care while he’s sick so they can get ahead. They give up time with Jr so they can advance. They do everything right–according to corporate America.

    Then mom and dad’s company don’t make earnings and they get laid off–all that loyalty and dedication mean nothing. That’s the trade off.

    We’re trading too many todays–for the promise of a tomorrow that may never happen. Give 100% at work–but don’t make work your life.

  • I think the self sabotage happens in a lot of ways. I sacrificed more than I really wanted to for a while to get into a position where my decisions about work and my life around work were implicitly trusted; I have freedoms now that I dreamed of ten years ago because I did “lean in.” But leaning in doesn’t mean a direct translation to putting in face time or extra hours. It meant educating myself further than the workplace ever would invest, it meant talking to my boss candidly about my needs in a professional, dispassionate way and about how to move forward and upward strategically, it meant calculating precisely how long I would put up with BS to gain the tools I needed to move on and stop putting up with BS.

    This was all deliberately to give myself options when it comes to building a family: I want the freedom, in time and financially, to be able to take care of my family and be there for them when I needed to.

    It’s a luxury that I’ve earned every bit of.

    And I don’t think Sandberg suggesting that leaning in is the only way to succeed at life, just that it’s a way to advance your career. There’s nothing wrong with choosing not to if that’s your actual choice as opposed to wondering why you’re stagnating.

    On the other hand, I’ve watched colleagues struggle because they self sabotaged: telling themselves that their current skill set wasn’t enough, refusing to talk candidly about what they wanted and how to get there, not asking how the system works with regard to advancement, instead expecting their minds to be read when they did have people open to working with them to advocate for and advance them. These sorts of things are always going to make it more difficult to move forward or be recognized or be advocated for when it comes to raises and bonuses. It was rarely a need to put in more hours that undermined their progress.

  • I’m curious as to how far and for how long we should “lean in”. The years we spend building our careers are also the years when a lot of change is probably happening in our lives. I’m talking marriage, homes and babies. There’s a 15 to 20 year range when we might have all of these things going on at once. Can we really have it all and do it all at the same time?

    Does that mean not having kids or your kids calling the babysitter “mom”? Does it mean sacrificing relationships? Does it mean that your job comes before everything else?

    Seriously, can we do it all and have it all?

  • I have been around your ”average” woman that acts like Sheryl says, they don’t have the kind of confidence that it takes to move up, and on the other hand I have also been around women that make my confidence hide out because of the character and knowledge. It is definitely each individual’s job to pay close attention to our behaviors, women and men, and find a way to teach ourselves the right way to pursue a professional goal. I think every one has a leader in them, we just have to let it out!

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