Published by Inge Geerdens, on 15/08/2013
I just finished reading the book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”, by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. She examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, by combining personal anecdotes with research material. A very good friend of mine gave me a copy of the book right before I left on a trade mission with a group of business people. During that trip it struck me on a few occasions how true the anecdotes were. Let me share two of my own.
While gathering in a business club, I asked a local business executive where the restrooms were. He referred me to a spot that turned out to be the men’s room. Only after searching for 5 minutes I found someone – the cleaning lady – who could point me to the ladies room. Those present couldn’t really give an explanation for that. Apparently very few female business executives ever attended the spot, so no one knew exactly where the ladies room was.
In the second anecdote, I am to blame. At night, I quite often talked to journalists at the bar, as they were travelling on the same mission. It was a lot of fun and we discussed general stuff. They’d ask me questions about male participants to the mission and about their companies. We never discussed my business; nobody asked why I was present on that mission or seemed to care about what I did for a living.
I didn’t bother to tell them either, but not because I didn’t have anything to say. It just didn’t come up. But we did have a lot of fun.
A Belgian journalist with whom I have had contact in the past, called me during that trip. He wanted to catch up, inquired if I had reached any breakthroughs or won any awards lately. Since he asked, I told him about the interesting business deal my company just closed on that trip.
When the article he wrote about it got published that week, quite a few journalists present at the mission were surprised and asked me why I didn’t tell them. This time I was the one who couldn’t really give an explanation. The best I could come up with was: they never asked, and perhaps I was too modest or stubborn to tell them myself. (Yes, it happens to me too.)
So I do agree with Sheryl Sandberg. Women are looked at differently, but we should also learn to speak up. If that Belgian journalist hadn’t called me, no one would have written about my company. And I would have missed out on a lot of good publicity. So then and there I decided that I, and other women, should learn to speak up. And I noticed how hard it is to change, but that’s another story.
And you? What is your experience with women (or as a woman) in business and with trying to change?
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