Lessons Learned from NOT Leaning In


Leaning In Photo from IStockPhoto

Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is causing quite the stir.   The book has been met with joy, anger, hope, interest, more anger, disbelief, and amazing sales.   Much of the criticisms of her book are about her and not about her message.

I’m in the middle of reading the book that was published last week and am finding it a good read.  Although Sheryl specifies that the book is not on career management, I am finding that to be one of the strengths of the content.   Whether your ultimate goal is to lead or not, every woman does need to develop career management skills so you can lean in at the times that will help you achieve your goals.

I have missed some opportunities to lean in.  There are more but for this post I will leave it to three examples.  I offer them as examples from one of the 99 percenters, an average Jane, a person whom you may find more in common than Ms. Sandberg.

Being a Friend Instead of a Career Counselor

Years ago, a close friend was upset because a coworker was named the new manager of her department and she had not been asked to interview for the promotion, a promotion she wanted. I was younger and more stupid then so  I shared in her pain, listened to her, and probably bought her a drink. Instead, I should have woken her up from her dream of the business world.

Although we all know many times when work does feel like high school getting a promotion is not one of them.  Bosses won’t be your girlfriends encouraging you to try out for the senior musical because you have an amazing voice.  Everyone who wants to be promoted needs to tell the right people at work.  The right people include the hiring manager for the job you want.

Silently Stood By

I was a presenter at a Women in Business Conference last fall and the keynote speaker ended her talk with “work hard and you will be rewarded”.  At the time, I thought about standing up and challenging her.  Working hard while not stating interest in new challenges will not result in new challenges.   I did not want to be that person but I should have been.  Here was a room full of college girls and professional women.  The college girls may have bought into the concept before they even started their careers.  That is starting one step behind. You don’t need to do a thing more than your job…. it’s absolutely wrong.

Standing by and not challenging such nonsense is as culpable as bystanders endorsing bullying.  If we are asking our fifth grade students to stand up to bullying  than I should have the courage to do it as well.  I partially failed that day.  I say partially because during my session I did address my disagreement on the topic.  I know it was a day late and a dollar short on that occasion.  It won’t be in the future.

Automatic NO

I was lucky. I learned to lean in early because of the first time I did not.  As a senior in college in 1985 I worked part-time at the local office of Congressman Joseph Early of Massachusetts.  It was before desktop computers and voice mail so I filed, answered phones, took messages, and once in a while actually talked with a constituent.  I must have done a good job because one day in May when the Congressman was in the office he called me in to speak with him.  I can still see him sitting in the big leather chair as I stood anxiously in front of his desk. I don’t think I had ever said more than hi to him before.   My first real conversation with him, and the Congressman offers me a full-time job in the D.C. office! I declined.

I declined so quickly it shocks me when I think of it now.  I know I did not consider the offer seriously.  I know it would have resulted in a different career path.  I may have been right to decline the offer because I was offered another job in government 12 years later and declined that job as well.  That time I knew why.  Where I was wrong was in not indicating interest and asking questions about the job until I could make an informed decision.  That is what someone who is managing her career does.

Since that job offer, I have never said an automatic NO again. To me, leaning in means developing my own career challenges and considering career challenges that are pitched to me. Some I have accepted and some I have declined.  Neither has been made from fear or lack of information.  When I have accepted challenges they have been interesting, rewarding, eye opening, and have moved my career forward.  I look forward to the new challenges I will accept.

Have there been times when you wished you leaned in?  I would love to read about them.  I’m sure the other readers would benefit.

© Katie Donovan 2013

Earn More Girl, The Mobile App

screenshot ipad 3I am thrilled to announce a new tool for your salary research.  It’s the Earn More Girl mobile app for iPhone and iPad.  Some time ago I wrote a blog post about salary research and how the results set us up to aim too low.  How could that be you ask?  Well, we want salaries similar to men but the classic salary range results incorporate men and women’s salaries.  The resulting target salary you select such as the median will be lower than the median salary for men working in the job.

Target the Salary Men Earn

Here’s a little math word problem for you:  if the median salary for a project manager in Dallas, TX is $85,575 what would be the median salary for men working in Dallas, TX as project managers?  Earn More Girl will tell you!  Simply enter your target salary and select the job.  Earn More Girl uses the job categories that the US Dept. of Labor uses.  All jobs are categorized under five main groups:

  1. Management, Professional, and Related Occupations
  2. Service Occupations
  3. Sales and Office Occupations
  4. Natural Resources, Construction, and Maintenance Occupations
  5. Production, Transportation, & Material Moving Occupation

Using Earn More Girl Mobile App

Start by entering your target salary then select one of the five categories from above and drilldown to your specific job.  There are 135 jobs and job categories included in Earn More Girl.    To get the most accurate results select the closest category if you are unable to find your specific job or keep at the default if you are unsure of the best option.

The answer to the question above is $94,610.  So if you think you are average (which you are not) and you want to earn the median salary for the job instead of targeting $85,575 you should target $94,610.  That’s $9,000 more than you would have using just conventional salary research tools.  Aim higher and that gender salary gap will start to shrink.

How does Earn More Girl do it?  The gender pay gap continues to be stalled at 77% overall but it differs for various jobs according to Dept. of Labor stats.  Earn More Girl uses the gender pay gap for the occupation and the breakdown of men and women who work in that job to calculate your true target salary.

Personal Pay Gap

You can check out your personal pay gap as well.  Enter you current salary and select your job.  Earn More Girl will tell you what you probably would be making if you were a man based on the gender pay gap for your job.

Earn More Girl is free and will calculate your Personal Pay Gap.   Earn More Girl Pro will calculate your Personal Pay Gap and True Target Salary.  Earn More Girl Pro costs $1.99. Both versions are for jobs in the US and are currently available.

I look forward to getting your feedback on the app.

Salary Adjustment vs Raise

Last week I had the joy of needing to go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.  I know.  I can feel your sympathy already.  The lines.  The forms.  The conflicting information!  My task was to transfer license plates from my mother who sold her 18-year-old car with 30,000 miles to me.  I knew it would not be simple but I didn’t realize how complicated it would be.    Three different registry employees gave me incorrect information.

I want to blame the three different employees but I cannot completely blame them.  I was speaking a different language from them and thus I was making no progress.  What I thought were license plates were in actuality “lottery plates”.  Once I learned this correct insider lingo – I was welcomed with open arms and information.  Oh I still had extra forms and more visits to the registry but at least I saw the path to accomplishing the task at hand.   Three lunch hours later and the “lottery plates” have successfully been transferred.

I share this story with you because sometimes it is just a change in the language that can help you accomplish your true goal.  You want more money for the job you do.   You want to be paid on par with the men who do the job you do.  You may think of it as a raise but asking for a raise will put your request into one bucket.  Ask for the same amount of money from the same person and call it a salary adjustment instead of a raise and your request goes into an entirely different bucket.

Raises are typically decided across the board.  Each manager is given X% for raises for all employees.  Should one person gets X%+ than another person needs to get X%- to even everything out.  But say the words,  “I need to talk about a salary adjustment” and you are no longer tied to the zero sum game of department raises.  A salary adjustment is an acknowledgement that your salary is not in line with the salaries for the job you do.  True at the end of the day it is money coming from the same company but your request will be looked at differently.  Most importantly, your request will not be tied to the raises any other person in your department receives.

You probably think you will need to do extra work since this request will be looked at differently. Refer back to  10 Things to Know Before You Talk Salary and you will have everything you need. The most important information will be the industry salaries for your job.  The key to an argument for a salary adjustment is to show that you are making a considerable amount less than the industry standard.   Unfortunately, this requirement should not be that big a hurdle since women typically make 20%+ less than men.  Also, be aware that this conversation can happen at anytime.  You should not wait until performance review time to discuss a salary adjustment.  Whenever you have proof that you are being underpaid is a good time to discuss a salary adjustment.

Free Agency is Not Just for Athletes Anymore

Allegiance to Family and Self

“We work hard and we play even harder.”  Ever hear that expression when interviewing for a job? To me that creates an automatic pass from me.  The reason is that I put myself ahead of the company and that expression is code for putting the company first.  I know it may seem selfish to state that I put myself first.  I also put my family and my friends before a company.  You may have similar priorities than I.  You may not.    If you do put the company first and have been laid off than you have experienced the great shock of the reality that it was unrequited love.

Recently I watched an intriguing video regarding thoughts on how to fix the US economy.  Within the video was the comment from the Carl Camden, the CEO of Kelly Services, that 25% of the US workforce are “free agents” and within the next decade 50% of the workforce would be free agents.

Free Agency = More Responsibility

Long gone are the days that a person would graduate high school and get a job that could last until their retirement.  The classic retirement gold watch is not waiting for any of us. Although you may have great relationships with management, their responsibility is to the investors and the company as a whole.  Decisions will be made that ensure investors will reap good returns and that the company will survive and thrive.  These decisions can and will include layoffs from time to time.  Thinking that your job can be gone at any time initially may be frightening but I am going to argue that it is inspiring.   It can inspire us to keep learning and staying marketable.

Staying Marketable

What additional training can you take that is new to your industry?  Experienced marketers have not been formally trained in Internet marketing until recently.  The marketer who has kept ahead of changes to her industry went to conferences and seminars, and took courses on the topic.  Her colleagues who have not are most likely on the unemployment line and taking those courses now to reenter the marketing profession.    What changes are going on in your industry that you should learn more about?  What new job/industry do you want to learn especially if it is one that builds on your current experience?  The job you have today may not exist tomorrow.  Or may be greatly diminished in size.  Ask bank tellers and travel agents if their jobs are at the same volume as in the 1990s.


It is estimated that a new college grad will have 7- 10 jobs within her career.  Assuming you will work for 40 years than you can estimate each job will last 4-6 years.  So it’s not as if you have to be in training all 40 years of your career but you do need to be listening and learning to the outside world.  Don’t become the next casualty because you didn’t realize your industry was a dying one.   If you had worked for a typewriting company in the 1970s, would you have been ready for the demand for personal computers in the 80s and 90s that created the demise of your industry?  Or would you have been shocked when you lost your job as the lights were being turned off at your company? If you work in the landline telephone industry would you be one of the workers who recently went on strike asking for job security.  The strike proved unsuccessful as union workers went back to work without a new contract.  The reality of shrinking landline demand must have hit home. Instead of seeking job security, the union would serve its members much better if it worked out a proactive retraining program that prepares members for the inevitable decrease in workforce instead of the standard reactive retraining which typically occurs after a layoff.   You won’t wait for the company or the union to figure out how to help you if you have a free-agency mindset.  You will be looking for better opportunities periodically to make sure you are taking care of yourself and your family.

Negotiating and Free Agency

The monetary lose you will experience by not negotiating your salary will rarely be replenished because you sacrificed for your current employer or gave up another opportunity or waited for the company to be fair to you.  With the free-agency mindset,  you will take every opportunity to earn what the work is worth and provide the work to your employer.

Do you feel more daring to negotiate now that you know that no job is permanent and you know your priority is not the company but your family and yourself?

© Copyright 2011, Katie Donovan. All rights reserved. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited