Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Sandberg/Mayer set-to, class, gender equity and encore careers!

Here's my take on the Facebook and Yahoo! senior female managers, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer's pronouncements.

Sandberg is promoting her new book and she wants women to be more proactive in directing their careers so that they are standing up front more while Mayer wants to end flex-time and home work arrangements with every Yahooer now required to put the home office genie back in the bottle  and get back to the office. Presentism is back.

I am seeing the current skirmish as another sad glimpse at the class divide. If we look at the boomer cohort for a moment, the reason many women of that generation opted out of work was because they could. Their higher education gave them access to a different marriage pool and sometimes they married up, meaning they could afford to quit. While that perceived sense of financial security does come with a lot of baggage, in terms of transfer of power in the relationship, confidence issues and increased vulnerability in later life, all that is only a related issue.  During these educated female boomer's early career forays, there really were very limited options. The glass ceiling had barely been cracked and there was no flexibility with respect to the career vs child conundrum.

Fast forward twenty years when Sandberg and Mayer were setting off. Both got gifted with ambition, aspiration and access, in that order. They entered a work world in the fantasy touched land of Silicon Valley. Their's was a time that differed greatly from the one that the boomers entered and that most people outside of silicon valley ever could enter. They found themselves in the very rare air of Google, which is in and of itself, an anomaly. While there is no question as to whether or not they leaned in or actually ever did leave their offices, they also worked their tails off. However, they did so in a climate, and at an age during a time in their lives when they could. There is no mystery to the fact that most women miss out on climbing the greasy pole and never get close to senior management, let alone board positions because serious career ascent occurs in step with the child producing years.

The real debate should be this: how can we honestly address gender equity in the work place? If women were equally compensated as men, if caring roles were valued - be it for children or for ageing/disabled relatives and if both people who made that baby/babies were involved in its development so that neither totally opts out of productive employment, then we would be moving in a positive direction. That, however, would require a transformative socio-cultural shift. 

I believe that I had a similar, rare air opp when I worked at Apple. Work conditions like that, back in the 80's and 90's, imbued you with a tremendous ego and a "take no prisoners"  attitude with respect to excelling in a fiercely competitive environment. You were the envy of anyone who had to work outside that rare air and it convinced you of your prescient, excellent career planning expertise, let alone the bleeding obvious superiority of your own abilities...

Meanwhile, this story will play on and on and on but in the end, I believe both Sandberg and Mayer are right. Women absolutely do need to put themselves forward more and while there is no substitute for physical presence, the deck still remains stacked against mere mortals, particularly those of the female persuasion. Maybe these two women should be looking to the older sisterhood for keen leaner inner's who are able to show up! A tremendous, fallow talent pool of educated boomer women does exist. They are predicted to be living longer too and they've got some bonus decades to burn.

Deborah Gale

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