Leaning In

This post first ran on Inside Higher Education as part of the University of Venus blogs. I’m sharing it here on my blog.

I’m going to offer a few reviews of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and this first one is going to be a sweeping overview of the entire book. There are specific chapters that I want to speak to as well, but first I’ll do a review of the book and the Lean In movement. In order to get access to the Lean In circles, er… movement, you have to join the site via Facebook, which is of no surprise given that Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. I say this in both an honest and tongue in cheek way, as I know that the Facebook metrics are working away analyzing users use of the Facebook platforms and various add ons.

The Lean In site offers anecdotes from different women who are members of Lean In and they each share their stories of times in their life when they leaned in. The members are mostly women and some men from different backgrounds (race, class, and work sector). What they share is an inspiring story about a learning experience or successful moment in their lives—either at work or in their personal lives. The anecdotes are concise. There are also videos that vary in time and some are quite lengthy (40 minutes long). I’ve enjoyed poring through the site and reading and watching the different stories. Some feel like testimonies and are quite personal, whereas others read like a motivational speech.

Getting back to the book, Sandberg is asking that women own their skills and success. Try to sit at the table; overcome the imposter syndrome. But, she also warns that we will have moments when we must work together and help others. This isn’t a book about selfishly helping yourself or being selfless. This book offers her personal story about when she had to lean out and focus on family or other issues in her life, or moments when she leaned in to get to the next stage in her career. She refers to statistics, feminism, and important stories as she shares her truth. She also acknowledges that some women (and men) will stay at home and do the important work of raising children, so she gives a nod to the parents who choose to stay at home and does refer to this opportunity as a privilege. I was glad to see this reference, as it is a privilege to stay home. Of course, some women are indigent and at home, but the opt out conversation is often lacking any discussion of class privilege or mention that women of color have been leaning in for years, if not decades and that their leaning in is complicated by racialized sexism.

On a side note, I’m really tired of the reviews and commentaries that are published by a commentator who has not opened the book. Not cool. And I am not keen with the haterade against the book based on the fact that Sandberg is a wealthy, Jewish woman. The review needs to say more than simply attacking the messenger. The book is not perfect, but Sandberg offers some great points that many of us need to hear again and again. I cannot represent all Latinas and know that I have class and heterosexual privilege, but I will say this: there are many takeaways from this book. It is important to believe in yourself, network, make smart decisions, invest in yourself, and help others. Mentor, coach, sponsor. Get mentored, sponsored, and coached. There is more to this book and so-called movement.

Now, I have heard lots of commentary about how this book does not help all women or is myopic in its view. These comments are interesting to me. No book will speak to everyone. This book and its message, though, might help some women realize that they deserve to be at the damn table. The book and its anecdotes might squelch feelings of impostor syndrome. The videos on the Lean In site might also make some women and men realize that they need to serve as a better mentor or coach to those around them. My suggestion to my current students or students who just graduated–Lean In.

Peer to Peer Mentoring: Leaning In

This is a good post to share for my March Month of Mentoring. I will post another about the book, since I have read it!

Now, I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In yet, but I’m going to weigh in based on the reviews offline, online, her 60 Minutes interview, as well as based on joining Lean In’s site last week. The conversations about the book and the phenomena of Lean In as a movement reminds me of Graduate Women Scholars of Southern California. This was a peer-mentoring women’s group facilitated by one of the Women’s Studies faculty members at San Diego State University. Dr. Susan Cayleff saw that her office hours were busy with women graduate students asking the same questions. In 1991 she decided to try hosting once per month meetings at her house related around a particular topic.

These monthly meetings were workshop-like and typically led by one of the members and the Cayleff. The topics covered varied from how to put together your CV, prepping for a conference presentation, working on your thesis/dissertation, dealing with your committee, and more. These meetings provided a safe place of support for women students. We were Leaning In. We were learning from one another and sharing strategies. It was a bullshit free zone for the most part and we were allowed to admit that we were second guessing our choices or having a hard time finishing projects. The women involved were primarily from the Art (Humanities) and Social Sciences from the local universities in San Diego; however, there were several from Los Angeles and even one or two who were from the Bay Area, but living in San Diego.

Thanks to this peer-mentoring group I was better prepared for grad school. Sure, I occasionally felt like I was faking it or didn’t belong, but overall the mentoring sessions reminded me that I had to make academe my own (or attempt to do so). I think that Lean In is on to something and that peer to peer mentoring is important. If Sandberg’s book and the site get more women to connect–great! I have benefited from strong mentors throughout my academic career and to this day have some great peer mentors and coaches. I have blogged before about how mentoring is my mandate. It is. Part of my mentoring is getting my students or peers to Lean In.

I need to read Sandberg’s book. And, yes, I know that she’s Harvard educated and part of the elite. I know that she’s wealthy–Google, then moved to Facebook as their Chief Operating Officer. But, from perusing different bios and videos, I can see that there is lots to gain from Lean In. And, I also know that we can be are worst enemies in our work lives, as well as our personal lives. Self-doubt, not negotiating, and making poor decisions hurts us all, but women more so at work. I am not an acolyte with rose-colored glasses. I think my main point is that I know how to Lean In and the Breathe Now is yet another example—a conference that I co-planned. Many of us have been networking, strategizing, and organizing. We know this work well. But, I’ll speak more to Sandberg’s book and movement after I read the book and pore through more of the blog.

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Assessment of Student Work: It’s Not about You

This post is worth sharing again. I spent the weekend and part of last week reviewing and marking first year mid-terms. This post is worth sharing again and again. This morning I read some of this blog aloud to my first years. I even had the blog up on the screen for them to see. I do think it is important to remind students that the mark is not about you, but the work that was reviewed. We (me and the TAs) are not judging you as a person. I know that it might feel like it, but that is not the case.

If I could look into the eye of every student (undergrad and graduate) and say:

Your course grades do not reflect who you are as a person. The grade is only an assessment of your performance in this moment with these assignments–no more. You should not take the grades personally and wonder if this means that the person who assessed your work doesn’t like you. We are assessing so much work and it’s ultimately about the writing, analysis, presentation, ideas, grammar, spelling punctuation, directions, but not about you as a person. The assessment is about the performance of the assignment or the project and it is not personal. And, I also ask that you think about the assignment that you submitted. Was it your best work and did you follow the directions? Are you owning the grade and the comments? It is so to say that the Teaching Assistant or Professor has it in for you or does not understand you, but is there more there? A moment of introspection is needed so that you can think about the assignment and the expectations for your work.

I remember when I started teaching and I was more casual with the students. I would occasionally hear the following, “But I thought you liked me.” I conferred with my mentors and was told–you have to be more formal. Use your title and remind them that you are assessing their work and not them. Who they are has nothing to do with the grade. It’s about the writing and thinking. I re-worked my syllabi and did become more formal the following term and didn’t hear those personal statements again. March Madness on campus is really not just about basketball. It’s also about research, thinking, and writing. Mange your time well so that you do justice to your ideas. My purple pen is here to comment and tease out ideas. I pick up each paper and think~ what is here and how can I help? The assessment is really about the ideas. Please remember this.

Mentoring: Job Searches and Month of Mentoring

Mentoring Matters. Mentoring comes up as one of the larger words in my blog’s word cloud. There is a good reason for this. I write (and think) about mentoring, coaching, and sponsoring lots. I am trying to make my March posts all about mentoring.

I was happy to have a great conversation recently with a former student from more than ten years ago about her last job search. She was lucky enough to find out about a local mentoring program at the local Jewish Community Center. Now, it is important for me to note a few things. My former student is not Jewish and the program was free! She knew that she needed a local mentor to help her with her job search, so she researched different possibilities and found this program.

She was assigned a seasoned mentor who was not quite twice her age. They met every other week to chat about work and her job prospects. Some might think of this relationship as a job coach, but it is billed as mentoring program. I’m glad that she was pro-active to seek a mentor during her job search. I was also proud of her for her initiative to take charge of her own success.

Not everyone has a good old boys or even a good old girls network. You need to establish your own networks and this might mean getting out of your comfort zones and going to meetings in your community or different communities. It is going to take work. There are days that feel like I have the same conversations over; however, I sit back and realize that for my mentee this is relatively new for them.

I am also reminded that those of us in the position to do so need to mentor, coach, and sponsor to help others network. We are only as good as our networks and we need to be willing to share our networks and lift others up so that they can have success, too. I remember a friend from a mentoring group calling me Spiderwoman thanks to the network webs that I weave. I like that. Spiderwoman!

Sharing is Caring: Social Media Gone Mad

I finished The Circle by Dave Eggers and had a varied reaction to it. It was part genius, mirror, and possible futurist examination. Attentions spoilers are ahead. The book opens with the protagonist, Mae, getting a dream job at a tech company that is Google, Facebook, and Cisco rolled into one. Soon Mae immerses herself in the culture of the Circle. She becomes an extremely productive employee of the Circle and embraces the cult-like philosophy of the company. Mae is an ambassador to the brand of the company. She comes to learn that above all everything must be shared. “Privacy is theft.” The book reads like many dystopian novels, but resonates with some familiarity given our plugged in society.

Some of us were outraged when we found out the depth of surveillance by arms of the government, yet at the same time many of us share intimate details of our lives on blogs, tweets, and status updates on social networking sites. Where is the happy medium? That medium ultimately is what we are comfortable with our particular digital footprints. However, Eggers gets on to something more insidious with the absolute need to share. Sharing is caring and consequently this also means that privacy is selfish. Transparency becomes the norm and this requires completely embracing the panoptican. Jeremy Bentham would be so proud or perhaps horrified. Would it be democratic, though, to make everyone vote? Mandatory voting does exist, but as of right now it is not facilitated by a social networking site.

Dave Eggers is on to something with the book, though. The want to share everything and also feel accountable to your community of watchers is problematic at times. Here, Mae’s thoughts reminds me of disordered eating and people who report their food intake on Mia and Ana sites. How would you act if you were constantly surveilled? The idea is that with an audience one would be on their best behavior–eat right, exercise, and say the right things. But, being on all the time is exhausting and some of Mae’s friends realize this.

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The book might give you pause as you think about your own connectedness. I know that I walked around campus more cognizant of needing to be unplugged.

 

Eggers, Dave. 2013, The Circle. NY: Vintage Books.

Peer Mentoring: Graduate Women Scholars

I often tell my students that my mentoring does not have an expiration date. It does not. I benefited from some wonderful mentors and I feel indebted to them. I was lucky enough to have a mentor who had the foresight to organize all the women students who knocked on her door. I won’t get the history right here, but essentially she saw that women students wanted similar things from her. So, she decided to get them all together monthly and the group was borne.

I first started attending the mentoring group when I was an advanced undergraduate and continued throughout most of my graduate degrees (two MAs and the PhD). We would meet monthly and discuss issues like: how to put your curriculum vitae together, how to communicate effectively, how to write an abstract for a conference, how to have balance in your life, and so many other germane topics. What worked so well with the group is that it was a conversation. While the sponsoring faculty member had her degrees and experience to share with us, we also had graduate students at all stages of their education participating in the group. We learned from one another.

The rules were simple—we brought food to share and we made sure that when we left there were no dirty dishes or mess in her house. While there we sat around in a circle on the floor or bit of furniture and introduced ourselves and then the topic. We would take a break to eat and then resume the meeting. Continue reading