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

Pay Equally is to Drive Safely as…

The Election is Over, Now Back to Work

Women made up 53% of last week’s voters and 55% of those women voted for President Obama.  Come January there will be 20 women in the senate and 78 in congress.  Women definitely have a huge impact on our elections and are having a growing number of seats at the political table.  I trust that with this growth, the issue of the gender salary gap will continue to be addressed until it is corrected.  Until now, our Equal Pay laws have been a bit like having Drive Safely laws.  With women flexing more  political muscle it is time to change this approach.

Laws are About Actions

Photo credit: iStock Photography

Thirty-nine states ban texting while driving.  All roads have maximum and minimum driving speeds.  Stops signs must be adhered.  No driving under the influence. In Massachusetts the car in the rotary has the right of way.  For those outside of Massachusetts you may know a rotary as a roundabout or a traffic circle.   Please remember this when you visit my lovely home state.  Regardless, note that each of these laws requires or bans specific actions.  All of these laws share one overarching goal – eliminate accidents aka Drive Safely. The heartache and financial loss of unsafe driving has been too severe.   Addressing the issue and to continually adjusting as new challenges such as texting rear their ugly head has been critical to minimize injuries, deaths, loss of property, loss of work productivity, and more.

Unfortunately, some people may follow every single law to the letter and still have an accident.  Luckily for everyone on the road, other people may break multiple driving laws and still arrive home safe and sound.  Whether or not they are arrested or ticketed is not decided on the end result – safe passage or unsafe passage – but on actions taken or ignored.

Unequal pay creates heartache and financial loss as well. The average working woman stands to lose $380,000 because of the pay disparities and for some women it can be as high as $2 million during a lifetime.  American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) recent report Graduating to a Pay Gap states  “one-third of the (gender pay) gap remains unexplained” while the gap itself has become stagnant in recent years.  The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) chart below shows that women were making roughly 80% of men’s earnings in 2011 whether you look at the pay gap by weekly median income or annual median income.  This is in comparison to 65% in 1955.  That is just an increase of 15% points in 56 years.

Equal Pay Laws Focus on Results

The slow progress to-date indicates that changes are needed for any hope of eliminating the gender pay gap within the next 50 years.  Even better would be quicker results that give women working today a chance to reap the benefits of their success instead of our daughters or granddaughters being the first to benefit.

Currently laws we have regarding equal pay do focus on the goal and not on actions.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) signed by President Kennedy states:

No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex: Provided, That an employer who is paying a wage rate differential in violation of this subsection shall not, in order to comply with the provisions of this subsection, reduce the wage rate of any employee. We have the Lilly Ledbetter Law of 2009 signed by President Obama.  We have the Fair Pay Act sitting in Congress without it coming to up for vote. 

Since the passing of the EPA some progress has been made but it has been very difficult to get beyond 80%.  As a country we have been hovering around 80% since 2003. The allowable exceptions (in bold above) to the EPA are broad enough (i.e. any other factor) that employers who are purposefully discriminating can ensure they have an argument if sued and employers who are acting in good faith may still have the end result of their female employees being paid less than their male employees.

In 2009 President Obama showed his commitment to equal pay by signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.   The law is written to lengthening the time allowed to sue an employer should a woman find herself paid unequally to her male colleagues but it does not address minimizing the gender pay gap.  The law states:

‘(3)(A) For purposes of this section, an unlawful employment practice occurs, with respect to discrimination in compensation in violation of this title, when a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted, when an individual becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, or when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice.

Time for Equal Pay Laws to Focus on Actions

There is research after research regarding the gender pay gap with common themes and recommendations appearing and reappearing.  Such research has shown actions during and after the hiring process that do promote equal pay and other actions that do not promote equal pay.

Job Openings Should Include Salaries

For example, AAUW’s Graduating to a Pay Gap recommends “increase in transparency in pay systems” as one essential step to eliminate the gender pay gap. A great start to transparency would be to require posting the minimum pay or pay range for jobs that are publicly advertised in newspapers, job boards, corporate web sites, etc. Currently many jobs are posted without any salary information. How often have you applied for a job with no clue as to the amount it will pay?  Typically companies pay outside consultants, purchase detailed databases, or hire internal compensation specialists to research market values of jobs, determine appropriate salary ranges and compensation packages.  Yet, companies put the burden on individuals who do not have the same resources to state their desired salary.  This desired salary then becomes the high mark for the salary unless the individual so underestimated the market that the company needs to pay them more just to be in the acceptable salary range for the job.   According to research done by Universum, a capital talent company, female MBA students anticipate earning less then male MBA students anticipate.  Both the ladies and the men prove to be right about what they will earn.

Putting gender aside – how does having the candidate name the salary attribute to equal pay for any employees?  This process ensures unequal pay among colleagues and not based on ability, education, or experience but based on one number stated during the interview process.

Pay Secrecy Should Not Be Allowed

Salary confidentiality continues the lack of pay transparency post hiring.  Research by the IWPR shows that the gender pay gap and pay secrecy are more prevalent in the private sector than the public sector. According to the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security, only 18% of women in public sector jobs experienced pay secrecy while 62% of women in private sector jobs experienced it.  Such secrecy may have a causal effect on the gender pay gap.  Even if it has no effect on the creation of the gender pay gap, it handcuffs any individual from approaching management to rectify the matter should she discover inequity in pay. Salary non-disclosure agreements typically have a “cause for dismissal” clause and thus it leaves people with three options when they discover others are making more doing the same job.  The options are 1) to accept the low pay in silence; 2) risk being fired for approaching management; or 3) start looking for a new job at a new company.  It is time to eliminate this practice that restrains employees from addressing unfair pay.

Salary Histories Should Not Be Considered

Questions about salary history during the hiring process are another means to perpetuate a gender salary gap.  A women who was underpaid in a previous job will never be able to jump up to the level of pay men are making if future salaries take into consideration past salaries.  One means to eliminate this contributing factor would be to the prohibition of salary history as a requirement when completing a job application both in hardcopy and electronic forms. Recruiters have told me that salary history does not provide any information that cannot be gained through other means such as questions of experience and achievements and review of the resume.

Take Action to Focus on Actions

Congressional Class of 2013, I ask you to look at the gender salary gap differently and consider laws that focus on specific actions.  Voters, employees, and women if you agree that it’s time to stop saying Pay Equally and time to focus on actions, please sign my Salary Inclusion to Promote Equality Petition.  I am sure that implementing this type of change will get better results than 15% points in 55 years.  Heck it can’t be worse.

Copyright 2012 by Katie Donovan