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.


Make Sure that Your Girls Aren’t Too Ambitious

One of my students shared the Cosmo Special Report in the October 2013 issue. I photo copied the article, read it, and have carried it around for two months. I wanted to blog about it immediately, but alas, grading and other work related responsibilities got in the way of a response. Here I am just weeks before a new year begins and I am finally ready to comment on the nine page article, “The Ambition Gap” by Lorie Gottlieb. The Cole’s Notes version is that single women are more ambitious and successful than their male cohort and consequently are having a hard time finding an equal. It is more complicated than this, but this article speaks to the supposed crisis of heterosexual masculinity (see Michael Atkinson for an informed position), women’s success, and the alleged post-feminist era. Yes, the article assumes that the coupling is between a heterosexual couple.

The first point that I want to make is that we are not in a post-feminist era. We are not in a feminist era. We are in an era that extols the importance of equality, but we wring our hands when we talk about the reality of who is successful, who sits at the table, and who are the high earners. Now, clearly, happiness and ambition are not mutually exclusive. What Gottleib is getting at, though, is that men are “losing their drive” (144). She recounts story after story of the young, single, successful woman who is more successful than their male partners or former partners. Thanks to the success of Liberal feminisms, we see more women working, buying homes, and in managerial positions (Gottleib 145). However, I want to ask: which women? Surely, we need to disaggregate and examine these numbers. Lots of statistics in the US and Canada illustrate that more single headed households are women headed households. We are also quite familiar with the fact that men, on average, make more money than women. And, when we look at upper management, board of directors, and chief executive officers the picture becomes more homogenous–male and white.

On page 147, Gottlieb has a column dedicated to “Watch Out for These Red Flags.” And, what are they?
1. He has no plan 2. He doesn’t communicate 3. He’s envious of your success 4. He takes advantage 5. He’s resistant to change

I am no dating expert; however, I think that these are red flags for most in their 20s and older and not so much about an ambition gap. Gottleib offers a shallow examination, but at the same time does not ask more important questions regarding race, class, sexual orientation, education, and types of career. Women might earn 60% of the undergraduate and graduate degrees (148), but she does not break this down enough for me. Why do I care? My experience as a university professor and one who has continued to look at women, politics, leadership, and higher education, I know that women tend to gravitate to certain fields of study that do not translate into higher earning jobs. We see women over-represented in Education, Humanities, and Social Work and under-represented in Engineering, Sciences, and Computer Sciences. This, then, influences the earning power for women.

What do I like about the article? Well, it was provocative and I read it closely several times. I also appreciated her column about “How You Can Bridge the Gap.” She pulls from Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (my thoughts on the Lean In movement).

She offers some points of advice: 1. Prescreen 2. Establish boundaries 3. Accept trade-offs 4. Give him a nudge

This advice is timeless and part of having a healthy partnership for heterosexual or same-sex couples. What do we do? Encourage people to think about what they want and how they want to pursue their dreams. Encourage girls to go into the STEM fields and work on the leaky pipeline for women and work. I am also concerned with this notion that women are too ambitious. There are parts of the article that equate being single with too much work success. This message is problematic.

Lean In Keynote: Blog Her 13

I am at Blog Her 13 in Chicago and this morning attended Sheryl Sandberg’s keynote and then attended the Lean In Circle workshop. Where to start. The keynote was more of a discussion between Lisa Stone, Blog Her, and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO. Sandberg was on the floor taking photos with delegates, signing books, and just meeting people. I had a chance to take a photo and talk to her for a few precious minutes about her book, Lean In. She was gracious with the crowd and was eventually pulled away for the keynote. As I waited in line for my moment with her, I was reminded of my Comic-Con experiences and felt like a fan girl.

Her keynote hit on the points outlined in the book and Stone asked some great questions. She also shared that the Blog Her Visionaries survey was filled out quickly within hours. I am one of these people and was happy to fill out the short survey about the book and movement. What I enjoyed most was how honest Sandberg came across. On the table sat some Lean In branded sheets to write down what you would do if you were not afraid. Sandberg shared her’s: Write a book about feminism. Yes, you read that correctly. She also seemed comfortable with embracing the term, feminism. It is clear that she is a strong advocate for women and men and their success. She made a point to share that some male executives have told her, “You have cost me lots of money.” Why? Because women are asking for raises!

I have previously blogged about her book and the movement. I am registered with the Lean In site and in an Education circle. I will blog later about the Lean In Circle workshop. It was amazing and I am still processing it. I have a page of notes to mull over, as I think about my workshop experience. Overall, I was glad that I woke up early to get a rock star seat at the keynote. And, I got to finally meet Veronica Arreola, Professional Feminist! We had a good chat about the book, too.



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.


My Comments to the UVIC Grad Class of 2013

I was an invited speaker to the UVIC Grad Luncheon. It was held on Sunday, March 24th at the Fairmont Empress. The following is my typed speech, but I ad-libbed some and will try to recall some of those comments.

Today I want to speak to you about a few things with my precious 10-15 minutes. Those of you who have classes with me know that I can gladly take more time!

First, thank you to the Grad Committee for inviting me to speak. I saw the flyers for this event and wondered if I should buy a ticket. I conferred with one of my friends, Dr. Annalee Lepp and decided that this was a student event, and had no idea that you invited faculty to speak (not lecture)! I was happily surprised when I was invited. I have so many current and soon to be former students graduating and thought it might be nice to attend. I believe at last year’s convocation I counted more than 100 former students graduating…so thank you for the invite. My family has been joking with me that it’s just me and some…oh, the college President! It’s definitely one of those moments when I can picture Vice President Biden smiling and saying, this is a BFD. I thank you for this humbling and amazing opportunity and hope that my comments are useful. I won’t lecture, I promise.

I want you to think about the words aspire, aspiration, and inspire.

Not too long ago I was in your shoes…I was about to graduate and wondering what was next. But, even before then I was thinking about going to college and my aspirations. Like many of you, I am a first generation college graduate and in the process of my post-secondary education, I earned four degrees. BA in Women’s Studies, minor in Political Science, MA in Liberal Arts and Sciences, then the MA and PhD in Political Science. With each degree my family was bursting with joy, yet also wondered when I was going to stop and finally become a college professor. I did lots of adjunct work (part-time teaching) between different universities in Southern California. I loved what I was doing and knew that I was in the right career on that fateful day in January 1996, when I lead my first section or as they call them at UVIC– tutorial. I’m lucky. I knew what I wanted to do, but alas my road to full-time work had some bumps in the road—few jobs in places that I was willing to work. Yes, I am a weather snob. I don’t do four seasons. My people thrive in warmer weather!

But, after many years of work, I took a big chance and immigrated to Canada in May 2004 with my family. My partner and I arrived in this beautiful city without jobs. Simply put, I took a chance on Victoria, and on Canada. I was glad for getting short-listed for some government jobs a few times, but when Dr. Colin Bennett called me and asked if I would be willing to teach Poli 335: Gender and Politics, I said: yes. I never looked back. I’m glad that I worked part-time for Political Science and Women’s Studies. I got the lay of the land. I networked. I went to talks, meetings, conferences, and taught lots of courses. I took a chance on UVIC and UVIC took a chance on me. (Here, I referred to Abba and think I sang, “Take A Chance on Me.”)

I want you to think about taking chances. I want you to think about what you aspire to do. Where do you see yourself in 1 year or in 5? How will you use your UVIC experiences to your advantage? How will your education help you get to your next goal? In the 5.1 years that you were at UVIC (that is the average time for most of our undergraduates to complete their degrees)–what have you done? You’ve attended courses, tutorials, hopefully office hours, clubs, events, worked, and occasionally let some steam off. But, how are you going to make use of this wonderful privilege–a post-secondary education? That is really up to you. Some of you will continue to graduate school and work, but most of you will continue working or look for what’s next–the career job. For most of you, that first year after graduating is the hardest. I hear from your friends who graduated–they say that they miss UVIC, they miss the freedom that they had. Believe it or not–your college years are some of your best years. You’ve made so many connections–you’ve learned so much. So, what is next?

I want you to think about people who inspire you. What qualities do they have that you admire? How can you learn from them? Who do you inspire? Many of you have been leaders in different respects on campus or off campus. There are certainly different ways of leading. Others of you are sitting perhaps thinking-who me? I’ve inspired someone. Yes, you have. It could be a classmate, a sibling, your parents, a coworker or one of your professors, who you have inspired. But, you’re not done. You’re just starting. You have more to do—to aspire to and to inspire.

Let me get back to people who have inspired you. I want you to get uncomfortable. I want you to make coffee appointments with some of these people who inspire you. You might send them a friend request on Linked In and then begin to interact with them there or maybe on Twitter. Get to know people in real life, but also within social media–these tools can be incredibly helpful for you. For the people that you can meet with face to face–ask if they have free time to meet with you. You’d be surprised at the number of people who are willing to meet with someone who is interested in learning more about their company—even when they aren’t currently hiring. They might say no—too busy to meet or they might be willing to meet with you. Ask them if they can introduce you to another person. You need to network. You will hear some nos, or people who might not respond to your email or call. Do not let that dissuade you.

You need to see our Career advisors on campus and have a set of eyes review your resume and get comfortable with promoting yourself. Your education is one part of who you are, but now you need to feel more comfortable networking and promoting yourself. You need to think about your aspirations. You cannot rest on your laurels–a BA. You have to go the next step. And network. Look for work. Meet people.

What can you do? Get out there. Join organizations or professional groups in your field of interest. Talk with your mentors. You do have some–think of your networks that you currently have, your former professors, teachers, family network, career services on campus. And, think about what you want to do next. Talk to people about what you think you want to do and this includes your peers. I am a strong believer in peer mentoring. Find a mentor, coach or sponsor–someone you trust who you can chat with occasionally or regularly. You need to articulate, plan, dream, and make things happen, but having someone to chat with is incredibly useful. You have this degree (just about) and what you make of it is up to you.

My hope is that you have some idea of what is next for you. Pursue it. And, remember that you can do so many things with that BA. What have I done? I worked retail, then retail banking from regular teller, business teller, customer service rep w/ loan work, educational foundation work (researcher), then did consulting work for non-profits and now I’m half way through 15 years of teaching and mentoring. I also am quite active in my discipline and I started that activity in 1996, when I was a PhD student. My point here is that you’re going to do lots of things with your career. Be patient, be strategic, and make mistakes. When you look back, they might not be mistakes, but what I refer to as teachable or learning moments.

Your BA demonstrates that you were able to start and complete something. It demonstrates to your family, peers, and potential employers that you have post-secondary education. But, you need to then demonstrate your skills. What are your skills? Think about this. This is where Career Services and Mentor/Coach are helpful. I cannot count the number of conversations with students who didn’t realize how important it is to note their skills, languages, computer software familiarity or social media literacy on their resumes. Ask for help. Think about what you’re good at and what you want to do. Talk to your peer network about your skills and what you want to do. I know this is scary. I’ve been there.

This next year will require you to be more introspective. I want you to be introspective, too. What single word describes you? I think about this lots and depending on the month or time of year I might have a different word. Today: it’s mentor. Mentor describes me. The mentor in me wants to encourage you to read some more. Yes, don’t groan. I want you to peruse What Color is Your Parachute. I want you (women and men alike) to read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In or join the website portal for the book. See what works for you, but remember that even if your formal education is complete–ultimately you will engage in life-long learning.

When I think about where I am today, I realize that years of preparation went into being a standout candidate for my job. I put a few years of prep into making sure that the hiring committee could not think about NOT interviewing me. Sure, I had experienced rejection letters, but this didn’t stop me from trying again, and again. What I’m saying that is success is not immediate. You need to try, you need to aspire. And, you need to get used to the fact that at times you won’t get the interview or be short-listed, but you take a deep breath and try again. Do not give up. I aspired to be the first college graduate from my family and I was. I am the first Dr. Aragon and hopefully not the last. Your BA is the first of many accomplishments for you. Try different things! Make your life list and write/type or text what you want to do and revisit this list periodically. Be flexible–be smart. And, update this life list—chat with your trusted network about your aspirations.

I want you to be introspective and remember to aspire for more. You are really at such a propitious moment of your life. I know that I speak for many– I am so proud of you. We are proud of you. You are on your way to becoming UVIC alums. And, looking out at your faces this afternoon I have a sense of inspiration. You inspire me—you make what I do rewarding. Congratulations UVIC Class of 2013!