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.

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!

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

Mentoring Grad Students

I have been having more conversations with graduate students about life after graduate school. Not all of them are interested in the traditional career path in academe. I don’t blame them–the job market for full-time work in higher education is dismal. There is lots of work for contingent (part-time) faculty, but that doesn’t really provide a stable income. I know this well, as for most of my academic career, thus far, I worked part-time. Sometimes this work was between three different departments at three campuses, ergo the term “freeway flyer.”

I do think that we need to be more responsible with our mentoring of graduate students and part of this includes not suggesting graduate school as a viable option to some students. There, I said it. Graduate school is not for everyone; however, some will figure this out on their own. I am referring more so to being honest about the psychic and financial instability of graduate school. Lately, I am seeing more undergraduates entertain what they are referring to more “practical” programs like advanced degrees in Public Administration and even a few are entertaining MBA programs. I think this is a good thing–let them branch out into different degree programs. An advanced degree in Political Science is useful, but it is not the only option.

I have been pleased to see an ongoing threads and hashtags on Twitter #PhDchat #gradchat #NewPhD. These short conversations are interrogating degree programs and what we think needs to change. These are important conversations.

We need to be more honest with our graduate students and make sure that our institutions offers different types of job training or workshops. And, if the student does want to go into higher education, we need to do a better job mentoring. This can be tedious, but meeting one on one with the students is really worth the time. This is part of an ongoing train of thought for me.

Thinking Like a Student

I was lucky enough to participate in a university photo shoot for national recruitment brochures. I had an opportunity to chat with the student “models” during the mock office hours and mock classroom lecture. One of the things that I was struck with was that the students wanted to know what made a student a favorite of mine. I was polite and tried to explain that I do not really think of my students that way. Instead, I think about how I want students to be successful and learn. I really did not understand the question at first. Then, it hit me, they wanted to know what do I like in a student.

I appreciate it when a student is prepared, on time, demonstrates familiarity with the course materials, and current events. I appreciate it when a student is trying and seems to care about doing well for the sake of learning the material or more about Political Science. Do I have favorites, though? I thought about this over the course of the next week, and my first reaction was: no. I still think that I do not have favorites.I have had students announce that he is my favorite student, and usually that student is not. I am not sure why he (the student has usually been a male student) has pronounced this. I have responded with, “I don’t have favorites.” Admittedly, this sort of student is usually a well-meaning, class clown type and is usually poking fun at both of us. I’m OK with this.

I have students who I get to know better by virtue of them taking more courses with me, my honors students, and then the students who I am mentoring in a stronger capacity thanks to office hours, and additional chats. Then, there are the students who have different issues: crises, help navigating support on campus or other issues, and I get to know them better. I think that the students that I know better are the ones who I light up when I see and these students are not favorites, but students who I merely know better. To answer the question: No I do not have favorites. I have students who I know better for various reasons. I do think, though, that the students who have had special circumstances have a special place in my mind, though. They have overcome some hardship and their success means something different to me. These are the students who make me want to tear up in happiness or even anger when things do not go their way. But, this does not make them favorites. Like I said, I do not completely understand the question. I would frame it differently. What makes a student stand out? What type of students do I prefer? Those are questions that make more sense to me, but I do not think like a student. I am on the other side of the table, desk, and classroom.

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Continuing the Conversation About Leaning In

Many are still responding to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. People have both applauded and attacked the book and Sandberg. I was recently catching up on my magazines and read a review in the April issue of the Atlantic and came across Garance Franke-Ruta’s “Miss Education.” Franke-Ruta notes that women are doing a great job in seeking higher education. Women are leaning in at university, but once they leave they fall behind. In short, we do well at school, but when we get our first job we do not negotiate well. I do not really agree with all of her article. Franke-Ruta uses dating as a metaphor. She explains that women are waiting to be noticed or wooed and this is different for men, since they seek out the job and feel more comfortable negotiating their salaries. Many articles and books point out that women do not negotiate their salaries and benefits well or as well as their male counterparts.

What the author is getting at in an interesting if not problematic way is that women are socialized to not negotiate well and to not find work in the same way that men do. This might explain why some 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women (28). What we might actually need is more leadership training for women, better mentoring programs in university, and in the workplace. Franke-Ruta is correct that education is not the panacea, but it is not just the formal education that is needed, but re-education of peoples’ expectations about women and men. We need better career education and mentoring all along the education and work pipeline. And, we need stop dismissing the career advice in Lean In and other books. They are targeting professional women and we need to embrace the message and not just attack the messenger. These books are clearly not for everyone–which career book is? I am including a screen shot from the article that assesses other similar books. Many thanks to the Franke-Ruta for her provocative review. You can see that these books share one major point: it’s important to ask for a raise.

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The Art of Phoning It In

What does it mean to “phone it in.” Generally speaking this means to give something little effort. To phone it in means that you made an attempt to do something. This does not mean that you tried hard, as you merely phoned it in. There are the occasional work outs that I phone in and hopefully get inspired to do more half way through the work out. There are days at work when I phone it in at a meeting or go through the motions, when I am not feeling well. However, I do not make a habit of doing this, as my job is too important to me to do this. Plus, students are smart. They know when a professor is phoning it in, and frankly, they do not like it. Can I blame them? This is my job. But, alas, I have expectations for them, too.

When do you phone it in?

I’m done teaching for about seven weeks and I am thinking about the last school year and the moments when I have phoned it in or when my coworkers or students phone it in. People say that Cs and Ds earn degrees, while this is true these sort of grades do not normally expedite getting jobs. Some students are clearly going through the motions, and I understand that. Some students do not want to be at the university or are not ready to do the work. But, there is something to say about a focused, hard worker who might have those occasional moments of phoning it in, but does not make a habit of phoning it in at work. Yes, I am saying that school is work. Students learn critical thinking, writing, time management, and hopefully get opportunities to collaborate with classmates. School is work and work is school. Success in university does not necessarily correlate into success off campus, and many college drop outs in the tech industry can attest to this. But, I have a word of advice for the rest of us:

Do not phone it in.

The photo below is a beautiful cake made my Real Food Made Easy, @toots11, Janice Mansfield. She never phones it in!

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